Slip-and-fall accidents account for 61 percent of all insurance claims and 53 percent of total claim costs for businesses, according to studies conducted by CNA Insurance. These numbers are a serious issue for both building owners and building occupants, and represent a problem that continues to increase in spite of skyrocketing fines and efforts by regulatory agencies.

Building service contractors can either help to reduce these accident claims, or they can unknowingly be setting building occupants up for a fall if cleaning duties are not performed correctly. Poor cleaning technique, combined with the use of improper floor cleaning chemicals, can be a critical factor in the cause of slip-and-fall injuries. But, outlining a comprehensive program with the help of national standards can keep occupants on their feet and accident claims at bay.

The American National Standards Institute (ANSI), in conjunction with the National Floor Safety Institute (NFSI), recently published comprehensive walkway testing standards to help improve floor safety and reduce the risk of slips and falls. Janitors can measure the wet slip resistance of flooring in the field and the results can be compared to nationally recognized safety standards.  

With the 2009 publication of the ANSI/NFSI B101.1 wet static coefficient of friction test method and the subsequent 2012 publication of the ANSI/NFSI B101.3 wet dynamic coefficient of friction test method, there are now national standards that outline traction levels. Documentation and compliance of these standards can be used by BSCs as a risk management tool to help reduce the potential of a slip-and-fall incident and increase defensibility in the event that one occurs.  

Contractors that can document compliance can also strengthen their defense in the event of a lawsuit by presenting an evidentiary trail of due diligence and fulfilled duty of care towards building occupants. As for contractors that do not document safe floor programs or choose not to comply with these standards, this may be a determining factor in the outcome of litigation.


Reviewing the standards

The ANSI/NFSI B101.1-2009 and the ANSI/NFSI B101.3-2012 national walkway safety testing standards are the product of the ANSI B101 main committee, operating under the auspices of ANSI and NFSI.  

By utilizing and adhering to these standards, janitors can compile much-needed information about the performance of the floors and the risk level they present for a slip and fall.

The B101.1 static test method measures the “slip potential” of the walkway. In other words, how likely is someone to begin a slip on a wet floor surface? The higher the tested static coefficient of friction, or traction level as it is referred to in the standard, the less likely a person is to begin a slip.

The B101.3 wet dynamic test method measures the “slide potential” of a surface. Essentially, once a person feels the initial slip, how likely are they to continue to slide on the surface? The higher the wet dynamic coefficient of friction, the lower the risk of a slip-and-fall event.  

Each standard measures different characteristics of the walkway surface, and therefore, both are important and relevant, as long as they are used under proper circumstances. To leave one aspect of the walkway surface untested would give an incomplete view of the actual risk of slips and falls.  

Both of these standards emphasize safety even further by classifying walkways into three risk categories or “Traction Levels” — high traction (least amount of slip-and-fall risk), moderate traction and low traction (highest risk of a slip and fall).

For example, according to clinical studies performed by the NFSI, floors that measure a wet static coefficient of friction at 0.6 or greater are considered high traction and can reduce slip-and-fall claims by up to 90 percent. Therefore, testing walkways against these national standards demonstrates compliance. Anything less becomes “your word against mine” in a court of law and leaves BSCs guessing whether their existing cleaning efforts are truly effective in reducing accidents.  

That said, even though the standards provide benchmarks and protect from false claims, they will not prevent all accidents from occurring. Departments should “test what you can measure, measure what you can control.”  

For instance, BSCs cannot dictate the shoes that building occupants wear, nor can they control or measure how any one person walks. These are uncontrollable variables. However, contractors can control and measure the coefficient of friction associated with the walkway surfaces in the facilities they clean by selecting floor care products and cleaning tools that elevate the cleanliness and coefficient of friction of the floors.  


Impact of the standards

Janitors must implement proper cleaning protocols, maintain accurate sweep logs, develop effective matting programs and incorporate ongoing training on chemical usage; all in an effort to reduce or eliminate slips and falls. But even with all that in place, how do they know the floors are still not slippery?  

Although many floor finishes are classified under the ASTM (formerly the American Society for Testing and Materials) D2047 standard as slip resistant, this does not mean that the floor — under real world conditions — is slip resistant at all. Even the most slip-resistant surfaces can pose a hazard if they are improperly maintained.  

To guarantee proper maintenance, contractors can require the use of cleaning tools, equipment and chemicals certified as “high traction” by NFSI. In doing so, facility managers can be assured that these products, when used properly, will keep slip-resistant floors and finishes “high traction.”

By selecting cleaning products and equipment with a high traction certification, establishing an effective maintenance program, training employees in the proper cleaning methodology, using proper matting, and regularly and routinely testing floors to the national standard, building service contractors can document a trail of due diligence to help protect against slip-and-fall accidents and the litigation that often follows.  

The one key component that ties all of these together and documents the BSC’s efforts to keep the floors as safe as possible is independent testing with the ANSI/NFSI B101.0-2012 Walkway Surface Auditing Procedure. This standard outlines how to test the walkways in a facility and how to document compliance with the B101.1 and B101.3 standards. This single step could change the character of a slip-and-fall negligence claim against a facility or deter a fraudulent claim from even being filed.  

Previously, when a slip-and-fall lawsuit was filed, the key claim was that the floor was maintained in a dangerous condition. Unfortunately, there was no way to prove that cleaning procedures were in compliance and effective, and that the walkways were indeed safe. However, with the publication of the B101 standards, it is now possible to test floors in the field to measure their “real world” slip resistance and protect departments from fraudulent claims.

NFSI estimates that the average cost of a slip-and-fall workers’ compensation claim is $4,000, and the average liability award for injury to a building occupant runs from $60,000 to $100,000 per claim. In fact, it is estimated that workers’ compensation and medical expenses associated with slip-and-fall accidents cost businesses $70 billion annually.

Even one slip-and-fall claim can negatively impact a business for years. By using the B101 series of national standards as the comprehensive basis for a floor safety program, workers’ compensation, general liability and litigation costs can be significantly reduced, and slips and falls may become few and far between.

Brent Johnson is the chief auditor for Traction Auditing LLC, the chairman of the ANSI B101.0 Walkway Surface Auditing Procedure for the Measurement of Walkway Slip Resistance subcommittee, and an instructor for the National Floor Safety Institute.