Preventing Slips, Trips And Falls
By Corinne Zudonyi
Wet or damp floors are not the only cause of slip, trip and fall accidents within the facility. Clutter, footwear and improper cleaning can also cause hazards for both employees and building occupants alike. In fact, according to reports, 50 percent of facility accidents can actually be attributed to the type of flooring used. Regardless of cause, these accidents can cost facilities big bucks in unemployment and liability claims.
Slips, trips and falls make up the majority of general industry accidents. According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA), slips, trips and falls account for 15 percent of all accidental deaths, and are second only to motor vehicles as a cause of fatalities.
“Last year there were 822 occupational deaths due to falls,” says Don Ostrander, CSP, director of consulting services occupational safety and health at the National Safety Council in Itasca, Ill. “The large majority of those were due to falls from one level to another.”
Slips and falls are actually two very different things.
“When you slip, you slip on a floor, and lose your balance,” says Ostrander. “A fall is when you move from one level to another.”
Dollars and Cents
According to the 2006 Liberty Mutual Workplace Safety Index, the annual direct cost of disabling occupational injuries due to slips, trips and falls is estimated to exceed $11 billion. The Index reports that falls on the same level are the second most costly occupational injury (estimated annual cost of $6.7 billion), just behind overexertion. It also shows that bodily reaction, which comprises injuries from slipping or tripping, is the third highest injury category, followed by falls to a lower level (4.6 billion).
“The average cost from slip and falls is $22,800 per accident,” says Ostrander. “The average workers compensation claim is $19,000.”
These numbers often account for medical costs alone, a hefty fine for an accident that could have been prevented. If an employee has an accident, managers must also factor in potential replacement workers, the salary of the unemployed staff member, restricted duty for that person, etc.
If a building occupant or visitor has an accident, there is no limit to what fees (medical, legal, etc.) companies will be responsible for. Those costs add up quickly.
Experts have identified three general causes of floor-related accidents: physical, social and environmental. Unfortunately, eliminating these factors can be very difficult, so it is important for cleaning managers to stress prevention.
Cleaning managers have little control over environmental factors such as tracked in snow, rain water, soil and dust. Instead, cleaning crews must be prepared to react to weather conditions and address concerns before they become a hazard. Preparation in these situations can eliminate potential accidents.
Cleaning crews should start with the outside and move in. Using proper matting both in and outside entryways can reduce the elements that are tracked into a facility.
“It is essential to build in permanent walk-off areas in entryways to capture moisture and soil as it is tracked in,” says Steve Spencer, FMA, facilities specialist at State Farm Insurance in Bloomington, Ill. “Walk-off mats need to be down 24/7 because you never know when it is going to rain and if a fine soil is tracked in, even on a dry day, it can cause a slip or damage the flooring.”
Cleaners might also struggle with social factors. These might include a person’s age, footwear, or if someone is simply distracted and isn’t paying attention to their surroundings.
Footwear accounts for 24 percent of all slip and fall accidents, according to the National Floor Safety Institute (NFSI). These accidents are common regardless of the environment because the less contact a person has with the floor, the more likely they are to experience an accident.
“Less than 40 percent of a woman’s six-inch heal shoe touches the floor,” says Spencer. “Also, 55 percent of all Americans wear shoes that don’t properly fit. Shoes that are too big can get caught on flooring and if shoes are too small, feet are cramped and reduce a persons balance. All factors that increase the potential for an accident.”
Statistically, age also increases a persons likelihood of floor-related accidents. According to Spencer, the average victims of slip and fall accidents are women over the age of 60. As the 35-million baby boomers reach this age in the next couple years, it is expected that the likelihood of these accidents will drastically increase unless preventative measures are taken.
Physical factors are difficult to control because they will be different for every building occupant or cleaning worker. This includes the potential for poor vision, lack of stability, walking struggles, etc. The use of proper signage to identify slip and fall hazards can help prevent these physical factors. NFSI statistics indicate that 9 percent of slip and fall accidents are due to hazard identification, or lack there off. Cleaners can reduce these accidents by properly notifying building occupants of potential hazards.
Training workers to properly clean floors can also reduce these physical factors. According to NFSI, 7 percent of accidents are attributed to training issues, such as improper use of floor finishes and cleaning chemicals. Workers shouldn’t only focus on using high-gloss finishes to improve the look of floors because some shiny finishes contain oil, which can reduce friction on flat surfaces and increase the potential for accidents.
Although not all causes of slip and fall accidents can be eliminated, it is important that cleaning managers stress prevention in their custodial programs. According to NFSI statistics, 50 percent of floor-related accidents can be prevented solely by the implementation of proper flooring (improper flooring is the main cause of accidents).
Choosing the appropriate floor type can be the first step in the prevention of slips, trips and falls. The NFSI recommends cleaning managers follow guidelines when selecting the appropriate flooring for their facility:
• Slip resistance — Make sure the flooring has a wet, static coefficient of friction (COF) of 0.6 or higher.
• Ease of cleaning — If dirt and grease are difficult to remove from floors, they could build up causing a slip hazard.
• Ease of maintenance — Select floor cleaners that are designed for flooring used within the facility.
• Durability — Select a floor that will hold up under normal use.
• Absorption — Floors that absorb too much moisture will also absorb contaminants. A high amount of moisture in a tile can also cause it to crack or become uneven.
• Frost resistance — Surfaces that expand and contract with temperature changes are more likely to crack, crumble and decay over time.
If purchasing new flooring isn’t in the budget, there are steps cleaners can take to make existing walking surfaces safer for both building occupants and workers.
First, cleaning managers might want to consider slip-resistant floor treatments such as etching, mechanical abrasion, grooving and chemical coating. NFSI recommends consulting a floor manufacturer to determine which treatment is best for specific situations.
Second, many floor-related accidents can be eliminated with the use of properly placed floor mats. Walk-off matting used in entryways helps absorb moisture and environmental elements from the outdoors.
If using matting systems, it is important to pay attention to rolled or frayed edges and over-saturation. If this happens, mats will no longer be effective.
Finally, the NFSI recommends using slip-resistant strips on steps and stairs. A major cause of slips is poor traction and facility managers across the country have reduced accidents within the facility by implementing these products.
Experts recommend that cleaning managers implement a floor safety insurance program into their department. This outlines various flooring types and in what areas of the facility they are most effective. It also outlines the proper cleaning products workers should use to maintain those floors and encourages managers to regularly measure the traction of the flooring. The higher the traction, the less likely a slip and fall accident will occur.
The most effective way to prevent floor-related accidents within the facility is with a successful program that outlines standards and expectations to maintaining specific areas.
“We assessed the facility and broke it down into risk factors that could create a slip, trip and fall hazard: poor lighting, smooth floors that don’t have adequate friction, floor coverings, flooring is poorly secured or uneven, poor housekeeping or clutter,” says Ostrander. “These issues can be addressed in an assessment and they are all things that can be controlled if properly identified.”
Spencer recommends developing a procedure that outlines expected COF and following the procedure regularly. It would also benefit cleaning managers to invite a third-party observer into the department to assess the flooring. They will provide an unbiased reading of the floor and the cleaning procedure that is in place. This audit will help managers determine a baseline for cleaning.
“If an accident does happen, it is good to have a standard procedure as proof that the floors are properly maintained,” says Spencer. “Managers should maintain regular testing and correction of potential problems to illustrate that floors are well maintained. The third-party review will also provide facts to fall back on if a problem arises.”
Beyond flooring, managers should make sure workers are wearing the proper types of shoes to maintain a level of safety in the workplace. High-traction shoes are ideal for cleaning workers.
Unfortunately, some people walk into a facility with a wet floor and start seeing dollar signs. According to NFSI, fraud accounts for 10 percent (third most common reason) of slip and fall claims. Manager’s best defense against these claims is an established and effective cleaning standard, with facts that support it. Documentation of hazards is also important.
“Identify the hazard, evaluate it and conduct regular testing to determine the COF of the surface,” says Ostrander. “Managers should use this information, document it and institute a formal process that will prevent accidents.”
Supplying documented statistics of a proper maintenance program can quickly eliminate false slip, trip and fall claims. Departments that lack such documentation will find themselves with little support for a defense and most likely, a hefty settlement awarded to the plaintiff.
For guidance on selecting the proper flooring type, contact the National Floor Safety Institute at www.nfsi.org.
OSHA Outlines Floor Safety Recommendations
Additional tips can be found on the U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Safety & Health Administration Web site at www.osha.gov.