In Florida, a customer that slipped and fell was awarded over $1.3 million by a Broward County jury after the business owners were found negligent for not routinely checking walkways for potential dangers. Three thousand miles away, a jury in San Francisco, Calif. awarded $265,000 to a shopper who sustained a knee injury as a result of slipping and falling in an improperly cleaned supermarket aisle. Meanwhile in Texas, a Jefferson County jury awarded a plaintiff $391,000 for back injuries incurred as the result of a slip and fall.

As these three verdicts demonstrate, slips and falls can occur anywhere, at any time and pose a significant threat to individuals and organizations. Facility executives must be vigilant of slip-and-fall dangers, but they must also be cautious of false claims. Headlines such as "Fraudulent Slip-and-Fall Claims Are on the Rise," "NICB Data Shows Increase in Slip-and-Fall Fraud Schemes," or "Fake Slip and Fall Caught on Video" are becoming all too common.

Fraudulent slip-and-fall cases frequently occur in areas with limited surveillance coverage. Restrooms, corridors and stairways are high-risk areas for fraudulent claims. Surveillance cameras and additional staff are excellent deterrents to fake claims and in many cases have caught fraudsters in the act of staging their injury. But, these cautionary line items are not in the control of the housekeeping staff and in this down economy, they are not always an option.

Preventative Maintenance

What is the conscientious custodial manager to do when asked to help the company prevent slips and falls and reduce exposure to litigation in this time of limited budgets and soaring costs? The first step for the thorough, in-house custodial executive is to eliminate the opportunity for fraud through meticulous maintenance, training and documentation procedures.

Facilities should be maintained both inside and out as scammers and legitimate slip-and-fall victims can slip and trip both indoors and out. Make it a habit to walk through the facility with a partner, looking for potential problem areas.  An independent set of eyes will usually catch things that everyone else gets "house blind" to. Unless this is done, it is easy to overlook potential dangers.

Floors should be kept clean, dry and clear of foreign debris and sidewalks should be kept completely clear of snow, ice and other slip-and-trip hazards. Sidewalks, parking lots and other walkways that customers use when entering and exiting the facility should be repaired at the first sign of damage, and all publicly accessible areas should be checked and maintained on a regular and routine basis.

Custodial managers are encouraged to maintain a detailed maintenance activity log, listing each maintenance task, the employee who performed it and the date and time it was completed. Cleaning frequency should be determined by the amount and type of traffic, as well as the location.

Not only should the completion of routine cleaning and maintenance tasks be documented, but employee training and attendance should be monitored as well. A written and enforced floor safety and maintenance procedure will improve safety and demonstrate management's commitment to slip-and-fall prevention. A well thought out and documented program will keep the facility looking neater and more professional while backing up the facts of the cleaning and maintenance documentation protocols.

Matting Maintenance

A well thought out matting program can also go a long way in helping the housekeeping staff keep facilities cleaner and safer, thereby reducing both labor and possible litigation costs.

A proper matting program should start at the entrance of the building. Mats placed here will not only dress up the lobby, but they will help keep dirt, water and foreign debris from getting tracked into the facility. The more contaminants that get trapped at the entrance, the less risk there is for slip-and-fall accidents.

Most experts recommend both an outdoor mat at the exterior doors of the building and an inside mat. A scraper mat outside removes large amounts of dirt and debris from shoes, while the inside wiper mat provides added protection from contaminants by catching additional soils and water. The matting combination helps keep entry floors cleaner, thus reducing labor and chemical costs.

However, the wrong choice of mats along with an improper maintenance program can increase the risk of slips, trips and falls. To reduce potential accidents, make sure mats remain flat so they don't buckle. It is also crucial that mats are not allowed to "migrate" from their initial location.

To prevent buckling and rippling, departments should seek out the highest quality mats possible and insist that all are certified "High Traction" by the National Floor Safety Institute (NFSI). The NFSI can test and certify whole mats, or just the mat backing.

Mats donning the NFSI label have been tested for traction and are a safe bet for departments looking to reduce slips, trips and falls associated with floor mats. Coming in the near future, there will also be a national ANSI (American National Standards Institute) standard associated with floor mats — the proposed ANSI B101.6 matting standard is on the horizon. This standard can be used as a template for custodial managers to write mat program procedures by.

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.