Clearing a Path to Floor Safety

An effective program will include six elements, ranging from training and signs to footwear.

The path to floor safety is often obstructed by procedures and ideas that tend to focus on the overall safety program of a facility, with floor safety being only one component of that safety program. This article will focus on the need for companies and individuals to look at floor safety as separate from other existing safety issues. Not because it's not a problem; on the contrary, it is a big problem.

Floor safety is a problem large enough that I feel it deserves its own consideration apart from other critical issues that may be facing a company's bottom line. In no way would we want to minimize the importance of any other safety issue, but I believe by treating each issue as its own entity, a company can be better served and give greater attention to each particular problem — a one-on-one approach, let's say. So let's talk about floor safety and how slip and fall accidents are among the most common accidents in the workplace for not only your employees, but also your customers.

Walkway Audits, Floor Safety Programs

The first tool to mention in combating this problem is the use of a little-known process known as walkway auditing. While still in its infancy as far as being used as an effective tool for identifying possible slip-and-fall hazards within a facility, this procedure has picked up steam in recent years.

Many people may think walkway auditing is simply testing the slip resistance of a facility's floor, but much more is involved, which is why it is referred to as an audit rather than slip resistance testing. The walkway audit is best performed by an individual or company that has some type of certification or training in the walkway auditing guidelines. Such a course is offered by the National Floor Safety Institute, and a complete list of NFSI-certified walkway safety auditors can be found on its Web site.

Of what does the audit consist? The trained walkway auditor will provide a detailed, written report that includes a detailed diagram of the facility. The diagram will have zones and risk categories listed within the report, as well as the location of each sample area that was tested. The final report will then have the SCOF (static coefficient of friction) readings of each sample, so as to identify areas that may present a possible slip-and-fall hazard and allow for remediation of the areas that need attention. Walkway auditing is only one tool that can and should be utilized in any slip-and-fall prevention program.

Another tool is the floor safety program itself. Having a separate floor safety program very well may be a key factor in whether litigation is initiated after a slip-and-fall accident. Any lawyer will tell you one of the first things that your company will be asked for after the accident is a copy of your floor safety program and maintenance procedures. What should be included in a well-documented floor safety program?

1. On-site walkway audits. As stated above, walkway audits help to identify potential slip-and-fall hazards. They show a written record of the SCOF readings of the floor in question. Walkway audits show your company is taking a proactive approach to floor safety and has the documentation to prove it.

2. Training. Within your floor safety program, you should have some type of training procedures for your employees, explaining items such as when and where to place wet floor signs, how to respond to and clean up spills, the importance of reporting slips and falls or near-misses even when no injury has occurred, and a written protocol that all employees must follow. A signed statement showing the employees understand and agree to the policy is also recommended and shows that each one has been instructed and made aware of your company's policy and procedures on floor safety. This also helps to instill in the employee the fact that slips and falls are common and that, for the company, their overall safety in this regard comes first, as with all other safety concerns.

3. Signs and barriers. Third is the need to have a sufficient number of floor safety signs and barriers to alert employees and customers about any obvious slip-and-fall hazard, such as spills, wet floors due to inclement weather, and so forth. This means if the building has three entrances, there should be a minimum of four to five wet floor signs available. This would allow a wet floor sign for each entrance and two extra to be used in the event a spill occurs somewhere within the facility while the other signs are being used.

Keep in mind that it is very important that wet floor signs never be put out when the situation does not warrant their use. Too often, I walk into a store and am greeted with a wet floor sign, but the sun is shining and there is no wet floor. This is a bad practice. If a wet floor sign is used on a regular basis with no obvious reason, then your employees and your customers could view them as permanent fixtures rather than precautionary devices as intended. I call it the "cry wolf scenario": If the signs are placed when no risk is evident, people could ignore them when one truly presents itself, simply because they have learned to ignore it as a true warning of possible danger.

4. Safety-enhancing cleaning products. Another tool that can and should be used in preventing slips and falls is the use of slip-resistant cleaners and degreasers. Safety-enhancing cleaners have proven to be very effective, not only in maintaining and cleaning a facility's floors, but also in raising and maintaining a positive coefficient of friction.

These products are designed to replace existing cleaners and degreasers, and most require no further maintenance than your existing cleaners. These products also have proven to be very cost effective and can further enhance the overall safety of your company's floors when used as part of your routine maintenance procedures.

5. Matting. Proper matting is very important in the prevention of slips and falls. In most cases, the mats we use in the entrances of our buildings are the first line of defense against slips and falls. But there are many different types and sizes affecting how well they reduce water and contaminants that make it into your facility.

Matting may have a wide variety of applications within the facility, and this should be taken into consideration when focusing on any floor safety program. For suggestions on where and what type of floor matting may be best for your company, see a floor safety consultant or inquire with the company that provides your mats.

6. Shoes! Shoes! Shoes! But not just any shoe: We mean slip-resistant shoes. True, while you have no control over what type of shoes your customers wear, you do have control over the type of shoe you require your employees to wear. Slip-resistant shoes have proven to be effective in lowering employee slip-and-fall incidents when they are mandated and the rule is enforced.

In the past, many employees complained slip-resistant shoes were either uncomfortable or unfashionable, but this is no longer an excuse. Slip-resistant shoes come in a variety of styles and sizes and are very comparable in price and comfort to ordinary shoes.

Documentation and Diligence Are Paramount

So there you have it: a few simple steps that, if used, could save your company thousands of dollars in unwanted insurance claims and litigation, as well as saving your employees and customers unwanted pain or worse.

But, as with any effort to reduce accidents and increase safety awareness, much depends on your company's willingness to take a proactive approach to safety and then back that commitment with due diligence in all aspects of a well-documented floor safety program.

The results will benefit not only your company's bottom line, but also the overall safety and health of those who matter most — your employees and customers.

This article originally appeared in the September 2009 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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