Every time a cleaner places solution on a floor, there is a risk of someone slipping on the wet surface. Yet, the majority of customer slips and falls happen long after cleaners have done their work, when a foreign substance is on the floor, creating a wet and slippery condition. So, why do contractors become involved in litigation for falls they likely didn’t cause?

Cleaning contributes to slips and falls by creating the high-gloss, wet look that so many customers require, especially in highly trafficked facilities aiming for an upscale image.

“The problem with the wet-look floor is that it is harder for people, especially the elderly, to distinguish that from a real wet spot that could be slippery,” says Russ Kendzior, executive director of the National Floor Safety Institute (NFSI).

Since the desire to have a wet-look floor finish is ingrained in American culture, BSCs can’t go without the finish that creates this look. That means contractors and floor-finish manufacturers have to find a different way to reduce the growing number of slips and falls happening in customer facilities. Kendzior’s answer is to look at floor finishes in a new light, hoping a new perspective will lead to safer floors.

True-to-life testing
“Floor finishes have advanced greatly from the waxes of the 1940s, but the test method used to measure slip resistance hasn’t evolved,” says Kendzior.

The James Machine — which manufacturers continue to use today — was created in the 1940s, at Underwriter Laboratories, to test the slip resistance of floor waxes, made mostly of natural substances, that would be applied to vinyl asbestos or asphalt tiles. Today, non-organic polymers make up the majority of floor-finish ingredients and the surfaces contractors apply them to vary greatly. But current safety standards remain based on the conditions of the 1940s, which allows all floor finishes to meet the current safety requirement of a .5 coefficient of friction, according to Kendzior.

Another factor that current testing does not include is the wet-substance factor. Most slips and falls occur in wet or slippery conditions, but manufacturer testing with the James Machine is done on dry surfaces. Because of this discrepancy between manufacturer testing and actual use scenarios, Kendzior believes contractors are lulled into thinking they have safe floor finishes that will reduce slips and falls.

That is why the NFSI has begun testing floor care products under wet conditions, with an updated machine that can gauge slip coefficients on multiple surfaces — even carpeting. In doing so, the non-profit safety group hopes to develop a more accurate standard contractors can use to determine the effectiveness of finishes in reducing slip/fall scenarios.

NFSI testing for what it calls high-traction floor products — solutions that can achieve a .6 slip coefficient when wet — is voluntary. As manufacturers or contractors submit products to test, the institute will place brands that have passed its more stringent high-traction testing on its Web site, and allow the manufacturers to label the products with a special NFSI sticker.

Field testing
The NFSI also encourages contractors to do their own testing in the field. To do so, contractors can purchase or rent the same Universal Walkway Tester (about the size of a bread box) that NFSI uses for its own testing.

“The contractor is expected to maintain a floor’s appearance and is told when it is dirty or scuffed, but no one mentions when it is slippery until after someone falls,” says Kendzior.

His suggestion is for contractors to test a customer’s floor immediately after cleaning it, to determine what the slip coefficient is in a neutral state. Then the BSC can do random tests between cleaning to determine if any contaminants are making floors more dangerous, altering service schedules accordingly. Contractors also can use the data to warn customers to more closely monitor certain areas where items are spilled or tracked in and could cause falls.

This testing also reduces BSC liability, if falls do occur because it proves that any finishes applied to the floor render a safe coefficient, while a substance that is added after cleaning creates a more dangerous coefficient.