Davis photoAwhile back, I dealt with a customer who had experienced an unusually high rate of slip-and-fall accidents on its premises. The customer, a large, successful catfish restaurant, had a kitchen floor and a ramp leading to the dining area that was extremely slippery — numerous workers had fallen. Management had tried to solve the problem in a number of ways, but nothing had worked.

To combat slippery floors, one must understand their cause. The problem with the catfish restaurant was apparent: a large bank of deep-fat fryers filled one entire wall. They cooked delicious catfish, hushpuppies, french fries and onion rings. They also spewed a mist of cooking oil that covered everything, including the large kitchen floor. Workers usually cleaned the floor by mopping it with cold water and whatever chemical was available (usually bleach).

To solve the problem, we implemented a three-pronged approach. First, the kitchen floor was deep-cleaned to remove frying oil that had become imbedded in the tile and grout. As you know, most kitchen floors are covered with some variation of quarry tile, and ineffective cleaning techniques or products allow grease to accumulate.

Next, the floor was deep-cleaned, or “shocked,” with a special acid-based cleaning solution available from most chemical manufacturers. These acid cleaners are relatively mild yet are extremely effective in removing long-term accumulations. (Follow the directions for use listed on the product container.) This process removes the greasy buildup and makes the floor safe for walking. Once the floor had been thoroughly cleaned, the challenge was to keep it that way.

The restaurant needed to change its daily routine. Instead of using a mop and bucket, my sales rep sold the customer a compressed-air sprayer that was filled with a properly diluted kitchen floor degreaser. After the floor had been swept and large debris removed, the compressed-air sprayer applied the degreaser to the floor. Several minutes of dwell time followed. A deck scrub brush with stiff fibers scrubbed problem areas near the deep-fat fryers, grills and stoves.

A large mop bucket was filled with clean hot water. A clean mop was dipped into the hot water and then the mop head was wrung thoroughly. The dirty degreasing solution was picked up with the mop and deposited into the mop bucket. This unconventional floor-cleaning technique was very effective for several reasons:

  1. The proper cleaning solution was used. Managers often want to cut corners by using bleach or washing powder or some other concoction they perceive as being cost-effective. These improvised products are not designed for removing animal fats and vegetable oils.

    Bleach is particularly ineffective. Demonstrate this by mixing bleach and water in a clear disposable glass. Mix your degreaser and water in another glass. Pour a little vegetable oil or a little spent motor oil (dirty motor oil is black and provides good contrast) in both glasses and then stir. The oil will stick to the sides and some will float in the solution containing bleach, but it will completely dissolve or emulsify in the degreaser solution.
  2. The degreasing solution was effective because it wasn’t weakened as it would have been if applied with a mop and bucket. When mopping a greasy floor with the traditional mop and bucket method, the grease is deposited into the cleaning solution each time the mop returns to the bucket. The degreasing solution quickly reaches its soil load capacity — the amount of soil or dirt a cleaner can hold before its cleaning ability is affected — and it is no longer effective. Once this happens, the grease and oil are just moved around without being removed.
  3. Spraying allowed adequate dwell time that is needed for the chemical to break the surface tension (a film formed by surface molecules) and to emulsify the soil. Cleaners will work by chemical action if given time.
  4. This method also provided a good hot-water rinse that contributed to the level of cleanliness. Hot water works best when cleaning greasy soils.
  5. Finally, the client bought non-slip kitchen mats. This type of matting permits grease and water to pass through the mat and provides a dry, cushioned surface on which to stand. The matting was placed around grills, ovens, and deep-fat fryers. Abrasive safety strips were applied to inclined surfaces and steps. Cloth mats were placed near the kitchen’s exit to prevent grease from spreading.

These principles and techniques solved the slip-and-fall issue for the catfish restaurant as they will for any similar situation you encounter.

Louie Davis Jr. is a 22-year veteran of the jan/san business, having worked on the manufacturing and distribution sides. He is currently director of sales for Central Paper Co., in Birmingham, Ala. Email comments or questions.