On the surface, commercial and retail facility mat use is pretty simple. Property owners use mats to collect soils and remove moisture from visitor's and tenant's feet on a rainy or snowy day for two reasons. The first is to reduce cleaning and maintenance costs.

"Ninety percent of dirt will be brought into a facility on the bottom of people's feet," says Derek Pedlar, national account manager for AmSan Omaha in Omaha, Neb., who describes mats as a horizontal garbage can. "You want to be able to stop the dirt at the front door."

The other — and perhaps more important reason based on some alarming data — is to ensure safety. One in three adults over the age of 65 falls each year, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Falls, caused by slips and trips, are the leading cause of injury and death among the elderly, according to the American Geriatric Society.

With the right placement and maintenance of mats, jan/san distributors can help their customers create safer facilities, especially for older building occupants.

Mat Requirements

To reduce the potential of slips, trips and falls, the first step is to make sure mats remain flat so they don't buckle. For all of the benefits that entrance mats provide in preventing slips and falls, they can bring upon a greater risk of trips and falls, says Russell Kendzior, president of the National Floor Safety Institute, Southlake, Texas, and president of Traction Experts, Southlake.

"For example, if it is a windy day and a property owner is using thin mats, when the door opens, the wind can cause the mats to buckle," he says.

Ripples can also occur when retail customers push shopping carts across mats. Such situations present higher risks of tripping, especially for the elderly.

"Elderly people tend to shuffle their feet when they walk, unlike younger people, who tend to lift their feet higher," says Kendzior.

And even then, he adds, most people only lift their feet about a quarter of an inch off the ground. As such, if a mat buckles more than a quarter inch, it can even present a tripping hazard for a younger person.

It's also critical that mats don't "migrate" from their intended locations. Mats are notorious for moving on the floor, says Kendzior.

Mats need to be high-traction, or have slip-resistant backing, says Kendzior. The NFSI can test mats for traction. This determines how likely a mat is to migrate or slip on the floor.

If unsecured mats are being used, they can move around and become slip hazards themselves. This is especially true if the mat becomes saturated, and water leaks around or under the mat.

"This can lead to hydroplaning," says Pedlar.

Mats made of nitrile rubber tend to have better traction and slip less, says Kendzior.

Mats also should be properly inspected for damage, and replaced if worn or torn. Care and maintenance are important so that the matting itself doesn't become a hazard.

The surface of the mat needs to be clean, and the floor beneath the mat needs to be clean and dry, says Bob Moran, chairman and CEO of Ludlow Composites Corp., Fremont, Ohio and chair of the ANSI Standard B101.6 committee (see sidebar below).

"If the floor beneath the mat becomes wet, the mat needs to be removed, the floor dried, and the mat replaced," says Moran.

Walk-off Tiles

Matting used in entranceways or vestibules tend to be wiper mats or carpet mats. To help reduce the potential for buckling and moving, another option to consider is walk-off matting tiles.

"These are composed of heavy-duty carpeting material that usually cover a very large area," says Kendzior. "They are permanently installed, so there are no edges, buckles, curls or ripples."

The walk-off tiles go down with pressure sensitive adhesive, so they can be removed easily if there is any damage.

State Farm Insurance in Bloomington, Ill., uses walk-off tiles in its facilities. Steve Spencer, facilities specialist with State Farm Insurance, is a big supporter of walk-off tiles because if temporary mats are laid down only when it rains or snows, there may be a freak storm that doesn't allow enough time to get the mats down quickly. However, if the mats are left in place all the time, they are likely to move, creep and buckle. And during storms it's useful that these tiles hold eight to 10 times their own weight in water and soil, says Spencer.

"Even when they are wet, the surface isn't slippery," adds Kendzior. "As a result, the property owner doesn't have to spend a lot of time worrying about the entrance when it is raining or snowing."

The industry standard for matting length is 15 feet, which ensures that each foot will make contact with matting at least three times. However, Spencer believes this is no longer adequate as this amount was common in the 1950s and 1960s when most building visitors were men wearing flat leather sole shoes.

"Today, this represents only about 6 percent of shoes," he says. "Most of the soles today are textured, and they hold and track a lot more soil and water."

As a result, State Farm installs 30 to 50 feet of walk-off tile in every building entrance.

No facility manager wants a tenant or visitor to slip, trip or fall in his or her building. Proper matting, as long as it's cared for, can go a long way in ensuring there are no accidents while walking.

William Atkinson is a freelance writer based in Carterville, Ill.

A New Mat Standard

While NFSI tests mats for traction, more help is on the way in the form of a new ANSI (American National Standards Institute) standard: B101 "Safety Requirements for Slip, Trip and Fall Prevention." The new part to that, ANSI Standard B101.6 will provide criteria specifically for the selection, installation, inspection and maintenance of floor mats, runners and rugs as it relates to the prevention of slips, trips and falls in commercial buildings.

The B101.6 committee is being chaired by Bob Moran, chairman and CEO of Ludlow Composites Corp., Fremont, Ohio.

Nine members, who represent different types of matting, including recessed well matting, launderable matting, launderable rubber matting, and vinyl matting, have been meeting to draft the standard.

"Because of their different backgrounds, we expected a lot of differences, but everyone was very cooperative, and there was a lot of agreement," says Moran.

The committee was tasked with addressing the following questions: What is the role of matting? How should mats be selected? How do you know you have enough matting? How do you make sure the mats themselves don't become a hazard? The committee ended up drafting a 19-page standard, which, according to Moran, will probably not be approved and released until at least 2011.

As part of its research, the committee noted that the nature of the causes of slips, trips and falls is both moisture and grit. The moisture issue is fairly obvious — slippery floors.

"With grit, if a hard shoe comes down on a large piece of grit, it can become like a skateboard," says Moran.

As such, to provide comprehensive safety, it is important to have two different types of mats: wiping mats to remove moisture, and scraping mats to remove particles.

"Another option is to have just one type of mat that can function as both," says Moran.

In terms of coverage, since there are so many different types of mats and environmental conditions, the committee notes that each facility manager needs to observe the environmental conditions of the facility itself to determine how much matting is needed and its level of quality.