OSHA has reported that 29 CFR 1910.22, its walking-working surfaces standard, was the seventh-most-cited standard by its compliance officers in the Eating Places Industry Group from October 2008 through September 2009.

Preventing Slip-and-Fall Injuries

Housekeeping and buying the right mat for the task and location are essential parts of the solution for food service companies.

Preventing employees' and customers' slips and falls is a top priority for food service employers and food manufacturing establishments, as well. Housekeeping is essential to prevention, but properly selected matting also plays a key role.

Because many factors may be involved in a worker's slip and fall -- factors such as spilled ice, water, and other substances; footwear; flooring material; obstructions; and low lighting -- the selection of the right mats starts with a hazard assessment and an analysis of how much foot traffic takes place at a given location, said Peter Larkin, director of sales at Apex Matting & Foodservice Products, a Superior Manufacturing Group Inc. unit that is based in Providence, R.I., and manufactures its mats in Chicago. (Apex Matting & Foodservice Products was the matting business of Teknor Apex until Superior Manufacturing bought it in 2007.)

The company makes about a dozen different styles of mats, each of which works better for specific applications. Thicker mats with holes in them allow much of a spill to drain onto the floor beneath, which helps workers in two ways: It prevents a slip and also offers more comfort for the people walking or standing on the mat, Larkin said.

"It's a little different in cold-weather environments," he explained. "You tend to have mats near the door that can absorb dirt and mud that people can track into the place. In that application, you're trying to protect the customer, whereas in the back of the business you're trying to protect the worker. You don't want what's being tracked into the place to be deposited on tile or wood and then present a trip hazard for the customer."

For that matter, mats also protect restaurant equipment, Larkin said. "If you drop a $50 bottle of bourbon on it, it's not going to break as easily as on a concrete surface. And that's also true for glassware, tableware -- it's an added value of the matting, without a doubt."

Customers want light, easily cleaned mats. Because saving money is all-important, they are buying more cleaning products these days than they had in the past, he said. "We have the capability and expertise to basically make mats of different rubber compounds that are durable but also keep the weight down," said Larkin. An example is a reversible mat that is lighter because air is injected into the mat as it is molded, he said.

Synthetic rubber, which Apex uses for its products, offers manufacturing flexibility because it can be made in various formulations for different applications, such as environments where grease, oils, and other specific substances are spilled frequently. Natural rubber, used by overseas manufacturers, is less expensive but is rising in price, Larkin said.

OSHA has reported that 29 CFR 1910.22, its walking-working surfaces standard, was the seventh-most-cited standard by its compliance officers in the Eating Places Industry Group from October 2008 through September 2009. The standard includes these requirements:

1910.22: Walking-Working Surfaces, General Requirements
"All places of employment, passageways, storerooms, and service rooms shall be kept clean and orderly and in a sanitary condition."

1910.22(a)(1)

"The floor of every workroom shall be maintained in a clean and, so far as possible, a dry condition. Where wet processes are used, drainage shall be maintained, and false floors, platforms, mats, or other dry standing places should be provided where practicable."

1910.22(a)(2)

Choosing the Best Mat for the Task
Food service mats take a beating. They're used in hectic environments and subjected to frequent spills, lots of traffic, and very frequent cleaning. Industrial mats, on the other hand, as a rule are used by a limited number of workers.

"There are differences in food service mats and the mats you'd make for industrial plants," Larkin said. "The mats that you sell to a Ford automotive plant or a GM automotive plant would be different. Basically, the automotive mats you don't have to pick up and clean every day because you're not dropping grease and oils on them, as much as in a food service operation. In those [industrial plants], you're basically looking for foot comfort, foot traction, and slip-and-fall prevention. In the food service environment, you're looking for all of those plus the grease and oils."

Published estimates from the National Safety Council and other sources indicate the average cost of a slip-and-fall injury ranges from $20,000 to as much as $28,000. "It's a big problem because it is costly, I do know that. I don't know what the actual cost is," Larkin explained. "You have workman's comp claims and downtime, the paperwork involved, the insurance claims, and your insurance premiums go up. Slips and falls are an important part of [food establishments'] loss prevention."

More than a decade ago, in December 1999, NIOSH estimated that about 44,800 teen-age restaurant workers had been treated in hospital emergency rooms during a two-year period, and the agency said 63 percent of those injuries had occurred in fast food restaurants. Burn injuries involving hot grease were common, as were fall injuries -- most of them related to wet or greasy floors. NIOSH recommended that employers utilize slip-resistant flooring materials and ensure floors are kept dry and clean.

In a typical food service area, workers usually fall because of grease or oils on the floor. In a bar area, ice and liquids are the hazards. "It all depends," Larkin said. "Usually it's grease or oil from the cooking operations that cause the slip-and-fall accidents. However, in a dish-cleaning area, it's just water. In a pastry station, it's butter, flour, that type of thing. Basically, anything on the floor which doesn't get picked up immediately."

Safety and facility managers should begin the matting selection process by analyzing the activity in the area(s) where they are considering adding mats. Heavily trafficked areas would need matting with optional ramps to accommodate the traffic flow, or perhaps matting with a lower profile, he said.

Larkin said the manager also must consider how the mats will be cleaned and should employ a regular cleaning routine to keep each mat sanitary and to prolong its useful life. If the facility is located on the upper floor of a building, lighter mats should be considered to alleviate any issue with lifting heavy rubber mats. Buying smaller mats (3 by 3 feet rather than 3 by 5 feet, for example) might be better for such an operation. Smaller mats also offer greater flexibility to a facility manager because they're easier to move from one spot to another.

Each location is different, and there is no one-size-fits-all mat, he said. A good hazard and traffic assessment is fundamental to choosing the right ones.

Most Frequently Cited Standards for Eating Places
OSHA reported that its compliance officers cited these 10 standards most frequently from October 2008 through September 2009 in the Eating Places Industry Group (SIC Code 5812):

  • 1910.1200, Hazard Communication
  • 1910.132, PPE
  • 1910.305, Wiring methods, components, and equipment for general use
  • 1910.157, Portable fire extinguishers
  • 1910.23, Guarding floor and wall openings and holes
  • 1910.303, Electrical, general requirements
  • 1910.22, Walking-working surfaces
  • 1910.37, Electrical protective devices
  • 1910.133, Eye and face protection
  • 1926.451, Scaffolding

This article originally appeared in the February 2011 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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