End the Hodgepodge Strategy

If you think every industrial mat on the market is all-purpose and useful in any location, think again.

Editor's note: Anti-fatigue matting is hot right now--and it's not just for human workers, says Greg Clouse, the industrial and agricultural matting sales manager for Koneta Inc. (www.konetainc.com) of Wapakoneta, Ohio. Koneta, which makes mats, trucks' splash guards, and other products, has been certified to QS-9000/ISO-9002 Quality System requirements and ISO 14001 Environmental Management System requirements. Clouse discussed anti-fatigue and anti-slip mats, wear and selection factors, footwear, and other issues in an Oct. 27, 2005, conversation with Occupational Health & Safety's editor. Excerpts from the conversation follow.

Your company sells mats that guard against slips, fatigue, and static discharge. What kind of matting among these uses is in highest demand?

Greg Clouse: Our highest seller is the anti-fatigue matting.

More than anti-slip?

Clouse: Anti-slip's a close second, but anti-fatigue right now is something that we see more demand for. A lot of people [have] back and knee issues, and a lot of companies, especially assembly lines and that type of atmosphere, are requiring their plants to have anti-fatigue matting.

It's typically for workers who are standing nearly all of their work shift?

Clouse: Exactly. A lot of people are standing on concrete. Doing that, you run into lower back problems, knee problems.

Do they find that using anti-fatigue matting eliminates those problems?

Clouse: It reduces the amount of knee problems and back problems. They also find that by standing on anti-fatigue matting, it'll reduce the tiredness of the person. They'll generally be able to fulfill their day a lot easier than before by just standing on something with a little bit of cushion to it.

You mentioned assembly lines. What kinds of industries seem to have the highest use for these?

Clouse: Probably automotive assembly [and] steel plants. It's across the board; any type of plant where they're doing any kind of line work.
Our anti-fatigue matting . . . is very durable. It'll last a minimum of five years. Our foam's made out of a rubber compound, which makes the foam a lot better. It has memory to it. So if you compress it, it's always going to find itself back to its original form.

Are some mats made differently?

Clouse: They'll break down easier. They'll compress and won't come back to their original state. . . . We can fit into a market where there's welding, cutting, and grinding. You can drive tow motors over the top of it.

You mentioned steel plants; I was thinking about hot work and sparks. You can obtain matting these days that's resistant to those?

Clouse: Yes.

How long do your end users find that these mats last?

Clouse: This is a product that we created about five years ago. Some of our plants that I've been into, the mats we first put down still look new. So right now, until we have more years than that, I'll say a minimum of five years. They'll look good after five years of pretty intensive usage.

In general, how should managers and employees monitor to make sure they're not using a mat past its useful life?

Clouse: With anti-fatigue matting, you're basically looking at the top of the mat. Obviously, if there's punctures in the mat, if it's worn through the top, you're going to want to replace it.
With the foam on the bottom, you're probably going to find out the foam is going to wear out before the top is. . . . If the foam starts breaking down, [if] there are inconsistencies in the levelness of the mat, we're probably looking at the time to replace the mat.

In those situations, you're talking not about the aesthetics of the product but that it won't perform as it should?

Clouse: That's correct.

Do industrial workplaces use mats longer than they really should?

Clouse: In the past, yes. What you'll find a lot is people putting the wrong mats in the wrong sections. Because of that, they're having to replace mats much too often .They get tired of it and just move mats around. These mats that they're standing on--they might as well be standing on concrete [because] they're completely compressed. They're torn up, holes in them. I've seen some bad stuff out there.

Generally, what I'll find out when I see a situation like that is that you're sticking the wrong mat in the wrong area. Certain mats go in certain areas. If you have drainage that's involved, you're going to need a mat that's anti-slip. It's not going to be quite as anti-fatigue as our foam mat is, but we have mats out there that are close . . . that have holes for drainage. Now, if you stick that mat in the drainage area where there's cutting oils, fluids, or whatever they have at that location, it'll withstand that because we've put nitrile in it, which is grease and oil resistant. If you stick an anti-fatigue, cushioned mat in that environment, it's going to break down quick.

It's just a matter of putting the right product in the right area.

I wondered whether there is an all-purpose mat that works everywhere. But you're saying specific types should go in specific places?

Clouse: There are mats that will work anywhere. We have a product . . . one of the first mats that Koneta came out with. It's an anti-fatigue mat. You can either have closed slots or open slots, for drainage or no drainage. It will withstand welding, grinding, and also will be able to withstand cutting oils, etc. But basically, it's the mid-line mat. It doesn't give you the best anti-slip. It doesn't give you the best anti-fatigue. But if someone's just looking for a general product to take care of everything, and they really didn't know what they're doing, that is an option.

But if you wanted the best against a particular type of hazard--slip resistance, for example--you'd get a mat designed with that feature prominently in mind?

Clouse: Correct. We try to do a better job now in our catalogs to point out what environments we believe each product should be in.

Are the buyers getting more sophisticated?

Clouse: They really are. Matting's been around enough now that people are starting to replace this stuff. They stick the wrong mat in an area and they're having to replace it all the time, it wears out. People start looking at how much money they're spending, and all of sudden it's a huge issue. Especially if they stick a mat in an area that's oily and someone stands on the mat, it slips out, and he falls. Then they have a safety issue.
You know, people don't want to mess with this. It's one of those things they only buy when they have to. Now, it's something that a lot of plants realize they have to have. . . . Once they put it down in there, they don't have to worry about it any more. They have something that will keep the employees happy. They're happy because they don't have to deal with it any more. It's something they won't replace, we're saying now, for a minimum of five years.

What factors determine the price of a mat? It is the size? The thickness?

Clouse: Depending on how thick it is. Our anti-fatigue, we have different options: We have a smooth top, an anti-slip top, a smooth foam, and an anti-slip foam.

What we've found in a lot of these plants now is epoxy floors on the concrete, so they're real slick. When put these anti-fatigue mats down, you want to use an anti-slip foam. It won't slide at all. That adds cost. Basically, this depends on what the need is. You've got to go in there, take a look at what the surroundings are.

Sometimes they don't know what they need, or their budgets restrict what they can get?

Clouse: A lot of times with matting, it's a problem and it's just a matter of how we're going to solve the problem.

Can employees' footwear affect the life or performance of mats they're using?

Clouse: In a lot of different lines, probably so. In our line, it's not going to really make a difference. . . . If you start getting into some of your vinyl mats and foam mats that don't have a protective top on them, what they're wearing would be a big deal.

If somebody notices a mat is coming to the end of its usefulness, can it ever be refurbished, another top layer added? Or do you simply start over?

Clouse: We start over.

OK. And end users should start over, you're saying?

Clouse: It is a rubber, so it's possible to recycle it. Out at our plant, we mold it. Some other plants make mats where they . . . use an adhesive to bind it together to make a "crumb mat," is what they call it. Sometimes the stuff is reused. It's more in the agriculture market now; it really doesn't have a fit in the industrial market like it used to.

What is the agricultural market?

Clouse: Stalls. For the same reason: They use rubber mats because it's better on the animals' knees, especially show horses, racehorses.

Is that new, or has it been around a long time?

Clouse: It's fairly new. Now we're putting it in horse trailers to be hauled down the road. That's more for anti-fatigue, but anti-slip for the animal, too. . . . It's a market that's very price-sensitive. There are lots of different mats that go out there, depending on what the consumer is looking for.

You mentioned your catalog. I wondered how end users should go about getting the right mat for their purposes. Is it possible to have someone come out from a manufacturer or distributor, assess the situation, and recommend?

Clouse: Yes. I do a lot of that myself. We do have rep agencies that are covering for Koneta.

That's typically what is done? They'll make a call on a plant, say, and the management will say, "I need something that will make the workers more comfortable, not tire them out so quickly." Then you make a recommendation?

Clouse: Definitely. I'll send one of my sales guys out there. If it's a big project or an issue that might need a lot of special attention, at that time I'll make my way out there myself personally to make sure the issue's taken care of.

Do you let a prospective buyer try something out for a week or two?

Clouse: Definitely. A lot of times, before I make a trip, I'll assess the situation by phone and send out a sample for them to test in that area to make sure it works. A lot of times, if you've got the right product and it works, you're going to get the sale. They've seen it, they've used it, they really like it, and that's what they want.

If they hadn't been using something as good before, I would expect the worker who's been experimenting with it would say, "I don't want to give this up. Let's keep it around."

Clouse: Exactly. The only thing people should know out there when they're looking at matting is, first take a look at what your actual problem is. Find out what's in the surrounding area--what the environment is. Is it oils? Is it a slip problem? If it is a slip problem, is it because of heavy oils, or an epoxy floor that the mat's sliding on?
At that time, if you have everything that's creating the problem, you take it to a company . . . and we'll be able to help. Basically, don't just throw a mat down.

Good advice. At many companies, processes change. An assembly line won't necessarily be doing the same thing for 40 years. You might change the materials being used, and that may change the way the mat performs.

Clouse: Correct.

Is housekeeping a factor? You'd want to keep areas around the mat as clear as you can of spills and other materials that might interfere with its performance?

Clouse: Correct. A lot of times, you don't have an issue with plants. They usually do a good job of keeping things swept up at the end of the day. . . . These mats can all be power-washed.

Is that typical? All of the high-quality ones can be?

Clouse: The high-quality ones, you can definitely power-wash them. . . . Most mats, you should be able to, unless you get into the ones that are just foam mats or vinyl mats. Then you've got to watch a little bit. You don't want those mats in a rough environment. They're more for light assembly lines, woodworking shops. . . . You get any grinding, welding, cutting oils, heavy pivoting areas; when someone's using an assembly line, you have to look at that situation, too. How many times is that person turning, picking up a part, and then turning around and putting it on whatever they're working on? Look at how many times that person's pivoting in the same spot every day.

That can fairly quickly break down an insufficient mat?

Clouse: Oh, yeah. If you don't have something that's a heavy-duty mat, it won't last at all. It'll be torn up in a month.
Most of the time when I go into a plant, I walk in there and I'll see about 15 different mats. When I see something like that, I know that here's somebody that doesn't really know how to solve the problem. They're ordering a different mat every time, and they're fed up with it now. And they've called somebody.

That's how they get the problem solved.

Clouse: Exactly. I love walking into a plant when I see that because then I know that they're just fed up with the situation and they want some answers.

This article appeared in the January 2006 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

This article originally appeared in the January 2006 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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