Every individual entering a building comes in contact with one major building component: The floor.
Properly maintaining building resources requires diligence, especially if the building service contactor (BSC) or in-house professional is committed to a comprehensive slip-and-fall prevention program.
Preventing slips and falls and their potential liability issues should be a key focus for all business owners and/or their BSC.
Establishing a sound prevention program is not overwhelming, but it does require a commitment to standards, documentation and training.
Keys to safer floors
Three main components are involved with providing safer floors for users: Measure and record floor conditions; improve and maintain floor conditions to an established level through effective treatment and routine care; and regularly evaluate the condition of all floors to establish that floors are being cared for according to approved guidelines.
Initial and ongoing measurements must be an integral part of every program.
The wet coefficient of friction (COF) of the floor’s surface must first be benchmarked.
This test measures how slip-resistant the floor is when wet or contaminated; the measurement should be completed by a trained and certified operator.
It is vital that the measuring mechanism be reputable and in compliance with industry standards.
One testing option is the Binary Output Tribometer or BOT-3000, which is the only U.S. testing device that has passed ASTM’s requirements.
The equipment enables the user to test both the static and dynamic COF, which is an important consideration.
A written and enforced floor safety policy and procedures guide improves floor safety and demonstrates management’s commitment to prevention.
This detailed material should address common causes for slips and falls, contingency planning, and proper floor cleaning.
The results of the initial COF test begin the documentation process regarding floor maintenance and form the basis for all future recordkeeping.
This information should ideally be in both electronic and hard-copy formats and should be readily available.
The results of all future slips tests should be added to the existing file the day the tests are performed or shortly thereafter.
Documentation should also include: All standard cleaning procedures, the cleaning materials and equipment that are used, and recording of any fall incidents that occur in the building.
Setting the course and keeping it
“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” is certainly true when it comes to slips and falls.
Prevention in a new facility begins when specifying flooring.
Avoid inappropriate types of flooring and establish traffic controls before the facility opens.
The requirements for cleaning all flooring must be documented and understood by all cleaning personnel.
Use floor care products from a reputable manufacturer that offers slip-resistant products.
The selected manufacturer(s) should back their products with sufficient liability insurance and offer training regarding their product’s use.
All facility and BSC personnel should understand the common conditions that can lead to slips and falls and their associated prevention measures, including:
- Inclement weather – workers should strategically place absorbent walk-off mats at all building entrances. Wet areas should be immediately cleaned.
- Inconsistent hazard identification – caution or wet floor signs in areas that are hazardous or being cleaned must be used.
- Obstructions – extension cords or other items that might cause an obstruction, and thus a fall, should not be used during times of high traffic unless absolutely necessary. Work to minimize the interaction of individuals with the obstruction to the greatest extent possible.
- Spills – any spills or wet surfaces must be cleaned immediately by using a fast-acting dry absorbent or other method.
Employees are critical
All employees who are responsible for floor care must be properly trained on the slip/fall program, which includes establishing safety standards and cleaning procedures.
New employees must be adequately trained and not just receive a cursory primer on floor care.
Employees should be familiar with all cleaning products and equipment that are used and should also understand proper storage of these items.
Employee cleaning practices should include vacuuming or dust mopping floors according to the established schedule.
Mops that are treated with ingredients that could contribute to a slick surface, such as an oil-treated dust mop, should not be used and employees must understand the importance of minimizing floor contaminants.
Cleaning procedures and components of the slip/fall prevention program should be reviewed with employees at least on an annual basis.
BSC employees must understand the important role they play in properly maintaining a building’s floors.
Employees can and should play an active role in identifying hazardous conditions, such as a loose tile, that are discovered during cleaning.
They must be knowledgeable regarding both cleaning protocols and the mechanism for reporting hazards.
Recognize employees for their proper cleaning efforts as well as their reporting of hazards and incidents.
Individuals who believe they are an integral part of the team will provide a higher level of service and typically have greater job satisfaction.
Learn from incidents
Learn from every slip-and-fall incident.
Document the conditions at the time of the event — including the floor’s condition, whether an obstruction was present and the type of footwear that was worn by the individual involved in the incident.
Determine if the fall could have been prevented through any effort on the part of the owner or the BSC.
Share the information that is compiled regarding the incident with appropriate employees so that everyone can learn from the event.
A comprehensive slip-and-fall prevention program does require work, but the benefits are well worth the effort.
Proper documentation, following established cleaning protocols and heading off potential negative situations will lead to floors that are well-maintained and safer for all users.
Kenneth Fisher is an advisor to the National Floor Safety Institute (NFSI), serves on the NFSI/ANSI B-101 committee and is chairman of a sub-Committee (NFSI/ANSI B-101-2). He served on ASTM’s F-15 Committee dealing with slip/fall issues. He also provides consulting services for Nu-Safe Floor Solutions Inc., an international floor safety management company. He can be reached at 1-800-275-7771.