Measuring Up to a Higher Standard

Just about everyone at some time in their life has slipped and fallen, only to receive a bump or bruise. However, if you are one of the 8 million Americans who seek emergency room treatment each year for an accidental fall, the consequences are quite different.

Falls are the leading cause of accidental death for the elderly and one of the leading causes of employee and guest injuries for many companies. According to the National Floor Safety Institute (NFSI), 55 percent of slips and falls are caused by a hazardous floor. Surprisingly, most are preventable! While many property owners do not realize their floors are slippery until someone slips and falls, that is about to change.

A new floor safety standard has emerged. The NFSI/ANSI B101.1-2009 Test Method for Measuring Wet SCOF of Common Hard-Surface Floor Materials is certain to change the way property owners, safety professionals, and insurance companies address the growing problem of slip-and-fall accidents.

Slip Resistant vs. High-Traction

For decades, manufacturers of floor finishes and polishes have relied upon the ASTM D-2047 (UL-410) standard for determining the slip resistance properties of their products. This laboratory test method divided products into two categories: those whose dry Static Coefficient of Friction (SCOF) was equal to or greater than a 0.5 value and those whose SCOFs were below the 0.5 value. Products that met the 0.5 or greater value were "Classified" as "Slip Resistant," while products whose SCOF was below the 0.5 value were simply not classified.

For many, this pass-fail approach created the perception that products meeting the 0.5 value were "safe," while those that did not were therefore unsafe. Many in risk management and safety have been led to believe this 0.5 value was recognized by OSHA, when in fact OSHA has never published nor mandated any minimum slip resistance value. The only reference to the 0.5 value being accepted by OSHA was that of the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) appendix, which incorrectly attributed the 0.5 COF value to OSHA. In 2006, the ADA amended the statute via a bulletin announcement and has since withdrawn all language pertaining to walkway slip resistance. As it stands today, neither OSHA nor the ADA has any minimum requirement for slip resistance.

In 2006, NFSI was awarded the distinction of being accredited as a Standards Developing Organization by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI). Since that time, the NFSI/ANSI B101 Committee on the Prevention of Slips, Trips and Falls has been working on a number of floor safety standards, including the newly released B101.1 standard. NFSI's approach to slip and fall prevention is different from what was previously employed. Because approximately 80 percent of all slip-and-fall accidents occur on wet floors, it seemed only reasonable to test floors when wet rather than dry. In addition, intuition tells us low-COF floors are more slippery and therefore more likely to induce a slip and fall than are high- COF floors, but exactly how much slip resistance is required to prevent a slip and fall is not always clear. So, rather than simply categorizing walkways as safe or unsafe based upon a single COF value, the B101.1 standard identifies three individual risk categories or "Traction Ranges."

Based on years of clinical studies, NFSI found that floors whose wet SCOF was a 0.6 value or greater reduced slip-and-fall claims by as much as 90 percent, while floors with values below 0.4 contributed to the largest number of claims. Walkways that possess a wet SCOF of 0.6 or greater are defined by the B101.1 standard as "High Traction" and present the least amount of risk for a slip-and-fall claim. Walkways whose wet SCOF is below a 0.6 but greater than a value of 0.4 are defined as "Moderate Traction," and walkways that possess a wet SCOF of less than 0.4 are defi ned as "Low Traction."

Simply put, High-Traction floors present the lowest slip-and-fall risk, while Low-Traction floors present the highest risk for a slip and fall. This unique approach of quantifying the wet SCOF to that of a risk category will serve as a valuable risk assessment and management tool for risk and safety professionals.

Impact of the Standard

It is important to note that for the first time in American history, property owners can now be held accountable for the slip resistance of their floors. In the past, there was no means by which a property owner could measure its floors' slip resistance and compare the results to a nationally recognized safety standard. That has now changed with the release of the B101.1 national standard.

The ANSI B101.1 standard is a voluntary standard and is not law, nor is it mandated at this time by any government agency. Rather, it is a risk management tool by which property owners can manage their slip-and-fall risks. Property owners who choose to comply with the B101.1 standard may see immediate cost-saving benefits, while companies that choose not to comply may not reap the full level of savings and are at risk of having the standard used against them in a slip-and-fall lawsuit. A property owner's choice to comply or not to comply may play a big factor in the outcome of litigation. Companies seen as being in compliance will find their legal defense bolstered, while those who do not are at greater risk of losing a lawsuit.

Having represented more than 400 plaintiffs and defendants in slip-and-fall lawsuits, I have found that many business owners consciously chose not to establish clear slip-and-fall prevention policies or guidelines because they believed ignorance or denial would somehow serve as their defense. Statements such as "I don't want to know if our floors are slippery because then I will have to do something about it" or "As long as we keep wet floor signs out all the time, then we are not responsible for someone slipping and falling" are commonplace in many businesses. Needless to say, property owners who have clung to these philosophies now will have to recalibrate their approach to slip and fall prevention. Burying your head in the sand will no longer be a place of safe refuge.

Certified 'High-Traction' Products

In an effort to help consumers make a more informed decision as it relates to product selection, NFSI has offered manufacturers of flooring materials, floor care products, and cleaning equipment a way to have their products independently evaluated for their slip resistance. Since 2002, the NFSI has certified a wide range of floor-related materials as High Traction, thus allowing consumers an easy and cost-effective way to comply with the High-Traction goal established in the ANSI B101.1 standard.

The certification process consists of two phases. Phase one consists of a laboratory test, where products that meet the 0.6 wet SCOF threshold are screened. Products that pass Phase I then move on to phase two, where they are placed into a real-world application for a minimum of 30 days. If the product as used in a real-world application continues to meet the 0.6 wet SCOF threshold, it is then Certified by the NFSI as High Traction.

A complete list of NFSI Certified products and walkway auditors can be found on the NFSI's Web site.

This article originally appeared in the March 2010 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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