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Review Floor Maintenance Procedures to Reduce Slip and Fall Incidents
Every day, countless floors all over the country are cleaned. Chances are good that they've been cleaned the same way since they were installed. But, too often, the methods being used to clean floors are incorrect. Weeks, months, and years of improper cleaning can lead to floors with low levels of traction and an increase in the number of slip and fall incidents. Revisiting floor cleaning and good housekeeping procedures can help reduce premature floor wear, as well as slip and fall incidents and injuries.
Common Causes of Slips and Falls
A lack of traction between a walking surface and a person’s foot causes slips and falls. Although some slips and falls are due to improper footwear and other factors, more than half of all slips and falls are attributed to problems with the walking surface, according to the National Floor Safety Institute.
A significant number of slip and fall injuries that are caused by problems with the walking surface are due to floors that are wet or have a dry contaminant, such as sand, dirt, or another granular material on them. Incidents involving floor contaminants (wet or dry) aren’t isolated to entrances or production areas. Whether it's a continual leak from machinery or spilled sugar in the break room, it doesn't take much to make a floor hazardous. Rain, snow, and ice are also contaminants that make both sidewalks and floors slippery.
Problems such as chipped or uneven concrete, loose floorboards, frayed or bucked carpets, and missing floor tiles are additional sources of walking surface problems. These issues are often easy to overlook because they've either been around for a long time or developed gradually and people have learned how to avoid them. Many of these problems can be corrected inexpensively by maintenance staff or local service contractors.
Improperly cleaning floors also can contribute to walking surface problems ranging from loss of slip-resistant properties and premature wear to a slippery build up that reduces traction and decreases the aesthetic value of the surface by allowing dirt to accumulate.
A good way to determine whether or not problems with a walking surface could contribute to a slip and fall injury is to test its coefficient of friction (CoF) using a tribometer. Different varieties of these tools can be used to test the CoF of both wet and dry surfaces. The measurements provided by a tribometer are usually expressed numerically on a scale from zero to one. The higher the number, the higher the CoF.
Sometimes, flooring manufacturers have specifications for CoF that are incorporated into the design of their products. When this is the case, the information provides a benchmark to compare with any data or tribometer readings provided during a walkway audit. If the measured CoF of the floor is significantly different from the manufacturer’s data, it could be due to the natural aging of the floor or a result of improper cleaning.
Routinely inspecting walkways and acting upon any irregular findings minimizes the potential for walkway problems to contribute to slip and fall incidents. Inspections and audits also help to identify trends that may require further attention.
Choosing Surface Cleaners
All-purpose cleaners may minimize the number of cleaning products purchased, but often they aren't the best choice and can actually contribute to floor safety problems.
Choosing a floor cleaning chemical that is specifically formulated and designed for cleaning a particular surface will help to preserve and protect the surface and minimize the chances of either damaging it or allowing an unsafe film to build up. This means that if there are different types of flooring throughout the facility, more than one cleaning product may be needed to properly maintain each surface. Manufacturers and distributors of floor cleaning supplies and local service contractors are good resources for help with selecting the right products for a particular type of floor.
After the right cleaning chemicals have been chosen, it is equally important to use them as directed. Using more of a product than is specified is not only wasteful, but also it can lead to residue and film buildup on the floor. This buildup is not only hazardous; it also allows more dirt and debris to accumulate, which will make it harder to keep the floor clean. Alternatively, using too much of a cleaner can strip finishes from floors, etch them, or cause other types of premature wear.
Many chemical suppliers provide or offer measuring devices for their products. Although they are primarily designed to control costs and prevent wastes, they can also simplify training and are a very convenient way to make sure that the right amount of product is being used each time. Posting instructions in supply closets or areas where cleaning supplies are stocked will help to remind anyone using the items of the correct product and volume of cleaner to use in each area.
In addition to choosing the right type and amount of cleaner, follow the manufacturer's directions for water temperature. A common perception is that hot water is better than cold when cleaning—but if a cleaner is formulated to work with cold water, using hot water may diminish its effectiveness. The reverse is also true: Using cold water with a cleaner designed to be used with hot water may not provide good results.
Using Clean Tools
There is little chance that using a dirty mop in a bucket of dirty water will effectively a clean a floor. Using dirty cleaning tools and equipment is a very common problem. Often, this is due to lack of training. Who hasn't seen a dirty mop bucket with filthy grayish or brownish water in it? In most facilities, it's a normal occurrence.
Whether floors are manually cleaned with a mop or with an automatic scrubbing device, water needs to be changed when it looks dirty. For large areas, this may mean changing it before the entire area has been cleaned. If dirty water is used to clean even part of the floor, the mop or scrubber is simply transferring the collected dirt back onto the surface. This leads to dirt building up and increased costs because floors need to be refinished or deep-cleaned more often.
After each use, mops, scrubbing pads, buckets, and other cleaning items should be thoroughly rinsed or cleaned and allowed to air dry. It may save a little bit of money to just roll a full mop bucket into a closet to use it later, but the cleaning solution may no longer be really effective; the water may no longer be at the right temperature; and the mop head isn't going to last as long if it's always soaking in a bucket of water. It is also more likely to retain and spread dirt than a mop head that has been rinsed and completely dried.
The best time to clean floors is when there is little to no traffic so they can completely dry. Not only are wet floors more of a slip and fall hazard than clean and dry floors, walking over them also increases the likelihood of dirt and other contaminants to be deposited on the floor.
I recently took my daughter to a special music camp that was a distance from our home. She was scheduled to be there for eight hours and there wasn't much to do around the venue in the early morning hours. I had the choice to spend that time in my hot vehicle or go to a national chain fast food restaurant with air conditioning and Wi-Fi. I chose the restaurant and was there through a majority of the morning rush and into the lunch rush.
The restaurant was fully staffed and the weather was clear, so no rain, mud, or snow was being tracked into the building. No drinks had been spilled. After the morning rush, there were very few patrons in the lobby. Tables were wiped and trash was collected. Then, during the noon lunch rush, an employee came out of the back room with a dirty mop and dirty bucket of water to wash the floor in front of the counter area. He did put out a wet floor sign, but as patrons entered, more than one-third of them slipped on the wet floor.
Fortunately, no one fell and there were no injuries. But if the floors had been cleaned after the morning rush, when very few people were in the store, they would have been dry before lunchtime and there would have been a much lower chance for slip-and-fall incidents.
Like the restaurant scenario, scheduling cleaning at the end of shifts or during off-hours minimizes the chance of slips and falls. When floors must be cleaned during high-traffic times, floor-level fans or microfiber drying pads can help to dry floors more rapidly to decrease the amount of drying time needed.
Have a Bad Weather Plan
Don't wait for the water forecast to indicate rain or snow before your facility starts to prepare. Establish a bad weather plan and keep any necessary supplies stocked and ready for use.
Rain, snow, ice, and fallen leaves can all make sidewalks, building entrances, and walkways slippery. Providing supplies and stocking them in areas where they can be conveniently accessed encourages their use and can help to prevent slips and falls. Mops, dry or additional entrance mats, absorbents, ice melt, floor signs, and fans are all commonly used items to help maintain these areas and improve floor safety. When these are provided, make sure that employees know their location and are trained to use them.
Slips and falls to the same level are the second-leading cause of lost work time injuries and a leading cause of workers' compensation claims. Analyzing floor safety risks and establishing plans and procedures that address any hazard that is found will help to prevent or minimize the chance of incidents and injuries.
This article originally appeared in the December 2015 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.
Karen D. Hamel CSP, CIT, WACH, is a regulatory expert, trainer and technical writer for HalenHardy. She has more than 25 years of experience helping EHS professionals meet regulatory requirements and industry standards. Karen is a Certified Safety Professional (CSP), Certified Instructional Trainer (CIT), Walkway Auditor Certificate Holder (WACH), OSHA-Authorized Outreach Trainer for General Industry, Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) Trainer and Hazmat Technician. She also serves on the Blair County, PA LEPC.