A young woman enters the lobby of her office building holding her briefcase in one hand and a coffee in the other.
She takes eight steps across the lobby floor and slips and falls.
She breaks her arm, sprains her ankle and suffers a concussion.
Who is responsible for the floor that she slipped on?
Very often it is the maintenance contractors that are held responsible.
When a maintenance contractor signs a contract with a company, the contract typically includes language that specifically names the maintenance contractor as the party responsible for maintaining safe, hazard-free premises.
The contract also reads that the maintenance contractor must have insurance in “commercially reasonable amounts” to protect themselves and the company whose premises they are contracted to maintain.
According to such contractual agreements, the maintenance contractors’ insurance carriers are assuming the liability for slip and falls on the floor surfaces they are contracted to maintain.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that slip and falls are the number one cause of accidents in hotels, restaurants and public buildings.
Over 70 percent of these incidents occur on flat and level surfaces, termed a same level fall.
According to data from Liberty Mutual, same level falls represented $8.61 billion in worker’s compensation costs in 2010.
A Growing, Avoidable Problem
The number of same level falls increased by 42.3 percent from 1998 to 2010, the largest increase of any accident type during that time.
The National Safety Council reported that compensation and medical costs associated with employee slip and fall accidents is approximately $70 billion annually.
With the latest technology, you can accurately measure the potential that someone will slip, trip or fall.
Industry standards were developed using the most advanced digital tribometer on the market.
This tribometer enables you to measure exposure and maintain safe walkway surfaces using the coefficient of friction (CoF).
This technology measures the slip resistance of hard walkway surfaces by dragging a rubber sensor to calculate the CoF.
With the release of the 2012 International Building Code (IBC) a dynamic coefficient of friction test, the ANSI A137.1 standard, was included.
At this time the standard is specific to ceramic tile (Tile Council of North America, TCNA) and natural stone floor manufacturers.
Hard surface flooring manufacturers are taking a serious stance with regard to floor safety and the liabilities associated with it.
By using this technology and developing these standards, they are protecting themselves.
This is the first time any U.S. National Building code or regulation has provided detailed instructions regarding wet dynamic slip resistance testing.
This standard requires the use of the BOT3000 tribometer and is sometimes called the ACUTest.
This means that the manufacturers are required to test their product before it leaves the plant.
The Concrete Polishers Association of America (CPAA) began the process of developing a similar standard, where their product is tested on-site after installation.
Similarly, with the release of the 2012 IBC and the development of ANSI standards, architects are requiring field testing after installation of all hard surface flooring.
These installers are required to provide dynamic coefficient of friction (DCoF) testing prior to occupancy.
By doing this, the architects, manufacturers and installers are protecting themselves.
As a result, the liability for floor safety is passed on to building owners and maintenance contractors.
And as mentioned previously, if the building owners outsource floor maintenance, they contractually pass all liability on to the maintenance contractor.
Therefore, when a same level fall occurs on a hard walkway surface, it is not the building owner that is ultimately responsible, but the maintenance service provider.
In one case, a New Orleans resident sued the supermarket chain Winn-Dixie Louisiana Inc. and its cleaning service, Southern Cleaning Services Inc., for injuries she sustained in a slip and fall accident (according to a suit filed in Orleans Parish District Court).
The suit named Winn Dixie Louisiana as liable “due to defective and unreasonably dangerous conditions on the premises” and that “Southern Cleaning Services Inc. is liable for allowing a defective condition to exist at a Winn-Dixie Louisiana Inc. store which it was contracted to clean and/or maintain.”
The National Safety Council reports that the majority of slip and fall accidents are caused by improper cleaning methods.
According to SlipSTD PAS, all wet cleaning methods should include a final rinse with clean water and a means of drying the surface before it is re-opened to traffic.
Failure to perform a final rinse with clean water can lead to a gradual buildup of concentrated contaminants and cleaning agents getting caught in floor surface ridges or asperities.
Contaminants in these ridges decrease the CoF.
In order to mitigate the risk of slip and fall accidents, maintenance service providers must work with floor safety specialists who are trained to test hard surface flooring to determine the CoF.
Regularly scheduled third-party audits ensure that maintenance contractors are in compliance with industry standards.
Complying with industry standards is crucial in mitigating risk because it has been scientifically proven that there is a direct correlation between the likelihood of a slip and fall accident and the CoF (see sidebar).
Architects, manufacturers and installers of hard surface flooring use newly developed standards in floor safety (ACUTest) to protect themselves from slip and fall accidents and the associated liabilities.
Maintenance service providers need to adopt a floor safety management program and include regularly scheduled testing in their maintenance contracts to help prevent slip and fall accidents and the associated liabilities.
The ACUTest requires the use of the BOT3000 Digital Tribometer, and the BOT3000 is the most widely accepted technology in the field of floor safety.
This technology is admissible in a court of law because it adheres to the five criteria of the Daubert Principle.
All results and data from this tribometer serve as evidence that the provider was doing everything within their means to maintain safe walkway surfaces.
Maintaining safe walkway surfaces and reducing exposure starts with CoF testing.
As with all things, safety means being proactive.