Despite all precautions, ice melt and moisture will inevitably find its way into the building, which is when matting systems become important. According to David Thompson, director of the Academy of Cleaning Excellence, Orlando, Florida, matting is the No. 1 defense against slip-and-fall injuries — and a subject he devotes most of his time to in floor care classes.

“Once you put mats down, they’re going to be there for 10-plus years,” he says. “So we need to look at matting as a capital expenditure and take care of them as if they were a piece of equipment.”

Toward this end, Thompson recommends purchasing an aggressive, high-quality matting system and eschews lease options that tend to favor appearance over performance.

“With ice melt, you get all kinds of grit and debris that reduces traction between feet and floor, so you want the most aggressive mat possible for collection,” he says.

Thompson advocates approximately 10 feet of bi-level rubber matting outside facility entrances — enough for people to place each foot on the mat three times before entering the building. Once inside, 10 feet of bi-level matting is optimal, followed by 10 feet of drying mats.

But even the best laid plans — or mats — fall short if the program does not include proper maintenance.

“You cannot use an upright vacuum cleaner to clean aggressive matting, but people try to do it all the time,” says Thompson. “Instead, you will need a counter-rotating brush machine with bristles that are long enough to get down into the grooves and reach the dirt.”

Safer Selections

When it comes to preventing slip-and-fall injuries, matting and floor care go hand-in-hand, especially during inclement weather. As such, facilities should review floor care plans and tweak routines to keep up appearances and counteract slippery surfaces.

According to Thompson, the only reason custodians mop floors is to keep them safe, yet the tools they use often have the opposite effect.

“The worst thing people do is use a single-hold mop bucket,” he says. “During wet floor season, this leaves a film of dirt and grime on the floor that can cause a slip and fall.”

Add ice melt to the mix and the floor becomes a sticky, slimy mess.

“The single-hold mop bucket that was once just your enemy has now escalated to your nemesis,” says Thompson.

Instead, custodians should clean floors with dual-chamber mop buckets and microfiber mops, or autoscrubbers with squeegees. Both will keep floors free of ice melt residues that pose safety risks. Experts encourage the use of this equipment in conjunction with neutral floor cleaners. For specialty products, such as ice-melt haze remover, Sawchuck suggests looking for Green Seal–certified products with a neutral pH.

“Some haze removers will strip away the gloss and floor finish, so you’re actually exposing the assets that you’re trying to protect,” he says.

Lastly, Sawchuck urges facilities to conduct product testing onsite and review floor care chemicals every two to three years.

He adds, “If you’ve been using the same product for 20 years, chances are there’s a more effective product on the market today.”

Illustrating Hazards

While key components, ensuring safety in facilities during winter weather isn’t limited to the correct use of equipment, chemicals or matting systems. Effective signage can complement those efforts to protect not only fellow custodians, but occupants as well.

When used correctly, wet floor signs serve as a visual cue to deter foot traffic from potentially slippery surfaces. Nevertheless, people may become desensitized to signs that stay in place indefinitely.

“A wet floor sign doesn’t go on the floor unless there’s a wet floor within five feet of that sign,” says Thompson. “The problem is, people leave the wet floor sign sitting there all day long, and it means nothing to the building occupant. So we have to do a better job as custodians and use wet floor signs only when the floor is wet.”

When using a dual-chamber mopping system, floors will dry in three minutes or less, at which point the custodian can remove the wet floor sign. Thompson also uses a wet floor sign with a built-in fan that dries floors in under a minute.

No doubt, signage and matting, as well as proper floor care, can quell safety concerns both inside and outside the building during winter weather. But hard surfaces aren’t the only asset that must be kept safe during snow and ice season. Custodial employees still adjusting to the seasonal change can be inadvertently careless when shoveling snow, elevating injury risk.

“Often someone from the facility performs these services at night and in cold conditions,” says Tirado. “So custodians should be equipped with reflective gear, hats and gloves, as well as tips and proper training on safe and efficient snow shoveling.”

Kassandra Kania is a freelancer based in Charlotte, North Carolina. She is a frequent contributor to Facility Cleaning Decisions.

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Tips To Prevent Slip-And-Fall Injuries