To the average person, slips, trips and falls might not seem to be a likely candidate for major injuries, but building service contractors know better. Falls have replaced automobile accidents as the leading reason people receive emergency room care and are the number one cause of death for people over the age of 75, according to the Itasca, Ill.-based National Safety Council (NSC).

The reasons for these types of accidents include lack of training, improper hazard warning and choice of footwear, according to the National Floor Safety Institute (NFSI), Southlake, Texas. However, the walking surfaces themselves — 55 percent of all accidents — are the predominant cause of slips, trips and falls. These are surfaces tended to by building service contractors.

However, BSCs can play a major role in reducing the number of accidents in their facilities. There are preventative measures such as proper placement of signage and clean matting that BSCs can use to significantly minimize the chance of a slip, trip or fall. Everything from cleaning schedules to cleaning practices and procedures figure into the equation. It’s up to BSCs to come up with a formula best suited for each facility.

Decreasing Incidents

Signage is a precautionary tool to prevent slips, trips and falls, but often, signs are poorly placed or left out for too long. When that happens, people become desensitized to the warnings.

Signs should only be up when the floor is wet and removed as soon as the floor dries, says JoAnn Dankert, a senior consultant for the NSC.

BSCs should also be particular about the type of signs they put up. Different dangers warrant different signage. For instance, when there is inclement weather and people are dragging snow and sleet into a facility, a hazard sign needs to go up. Hazard signs differ from standard wet floor signs by including the word “hazard” in large letters indicating a walking risk and that people need to watch their step.

However, hazard signs are not always enough warning. When a BSC is trying to avoid traffic from passing through a certain area — for instance, while applying a coat of finish or waxing the floors — BSCs should put up a barricade around the perimeter of the area, says Steve Spencer, facilities specialist, State Farm Insurance, Bloomington, Ill.

“The barrier prevents people from walking through an area,” he says. “A lot of times people will walk right past a wet floor sign.”

The NSC recommends that BSCs stagger barriers every 25 feet at most.

Even if BSCs are putting up the correct signage, the intended message of a sign is lost if the sign is placed in a poorly visible spot. The number of signs used and the type of area being cleaned are all factors to consider when placing the signs.

Wet floor signs should cover the entire perimeter of the area a BSC cleans, says David LaDay, the owner and national operations director for SPI Janitorial, Omaha, Neb. People walking by need adequate warning that they are approaching a potential hazard, he says.

Some facilities will even go so far as to post a preemptive message on their intranet. The message alerts employees that BSCs will be cleaning the floors in a certain part of the facility at a specific time.

Signage is the best tool BSCs use to warn people of the slip and trip hazards within a facility, but occupants need a way to eliminate shoe debris. Matting offers the best solution because it removes moisture or soils from footwear as people are coming indoors, says Russ Kendzior, executive director, NFSI.

To keep the mats in good condition and maintain strong slip resistance, BSCs should routinely vacuum and use a carpet extractor. In inclement weather the carpet should be cleaned and extracted at least once a quarter, says LaDay. This significantly lowers the moisture on the mats, creating a less slippery surface for people in the facility.

A facility’s permanent matting is made to withstand the rigors of year-round use, but BSCs should place additional temporary matting when the weather is poor. However, a complaint with temporary matting is that the inclement weather causes moisture and dirt to accumulate more quickly and BSCs do not change them out at a quick enough pace, says Dankert. The larger volume of moisture causes the mats to roll up, crack or fray at the edges, any of which create a trip hazard.

As a result, the temporary mats will need to be changed out more frequently in the winter months to prevent moisture from building up. Moisture that builds up beneath the mat can become a slip hazard as well.

To secure the mats to the floor, Spencer recommends using a pressure-sensitive, double-sided adhesive tape. The tape is water-based and does not leave the markings duct tape or other types of adhesives do.

Proper signage and good matting are a good start, but not enough to guarantee a low number of slips, trips or falls. BSCs have to be cognizant of the slip resistance of each cleaner, disinfectant, stripper and finish they are applying to the floors.

BSCs should purchase products based on the slip resistance they provide, says Kendzior. Some floor-care chemicals leave a slippery layer of film or soap scum on the floor so it is important to find out what, if any, residue the products leave.

BSCs should stick to a schedule when cleaning floors. This will offer consistency and familiarity for everyone else in the facility, says LaDay. If people are used to certain areas being cleaned at certain times, they will know to tread a little more carefully around those areas.

Testing the Surface

Correctly utilizing signage and strict cleaning schedules are beneficial ways to reduce slips, trips and falls, but BSCs should first conduct a slip-meter test shortly after winning a new account. The tests gauge the slipperiness, or coefficient of friction (COF), of the floors.

BSCs should consult their general liability carrier or workers’ compensation carrier to see if they recommend someone to conduct the testing, says Dankert. The third party carrier conducts the testing professionally and would give the facility an accurate reading of a floor’s COF.

The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) has certified the NFSI standard of slip-meter testing which sets in place three ranges — low, moderate and high — of the COF. A high COF means the floor is not very slippery and BSCs have little concern of an accident occurring. However, a low COF means BSCs should examine the chemicals they use on the floors, the cleaning methods they employ and the cleaning applications in order to improve the COF.

The amount of traffic in the facility should dictate the number of times BSCs conduct the testing, says Spencer. For example, a retail store with high amounts of traffic should be tested once per quarter to validate their cleaning program. Larger amounts of traffic increase the likelihood of someone slipping or tripping, so the COF should be tested more often.

Slip, trip and fall prevention begins by developing a competent cleaning program from the results of slip-meter testing. The program should correctly utilize assets such as wet floor signs and matting, while incorporating sound cleaning procedures and consistent cleaning times.