Slips, trips and falls are the most common type of accident not just on the job, but in life. According to the U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA), slips, trips and falls account for 15% of all accidental deaths in the United States; motor vehicle accidents represent the number one as a cause of fatalities at nearly 24%.
Each day, 25,000 reports of slips, trips or falls are reported in the country, according to the National Safety Council (NSC). Whether it is from a ladder in the garage, a stool in the kitchen or a slip outside the office, the average cost per reported incident is $22,800, with the average workers’ compensation claim totaling $19,000.
While costly and dangerous, the most critical element in examining the issue is that the vast majority of these incidents are avoidable—that means fewer people injured, out of work, lower medical costs, less time out for caretaking of an injured family member and better conditions for all. In fact, slip and fall accidents are the top cause of preventable deaths among people aged 65 to 85 and over, the NSC reports.
“There were 822 occupational deaths due to falls,” said Don Ostrander, CSP, director of consulting services occupational safety and health at the National Safety Council. “The large majority of those were due to falls from one level to another.”
Common Missteps (Pun intended!)—And More
Slippery floors are the most common factor in slip-falls. Spills and debris can be hazardous on any walking surface, so good housekeeping practices are essential. Routine moves, and a more vigilant eye can make a measurable difference. Some pro-active measures include:
- Clean spills immediately; mop or sweep up all debris.
- Proper lighting to ensure you’ve properly illuminated areas that may be hazardous.
- Slip-resistance footwear for your facilities team.
- Clear entryways and high traffic common areas and stairwells of boxes and clutter.
- Eliminate any cords on walkways (or if not possible, mark area with proper safety signage to ensure cord is visible).
- Heighten awareness of your surroundings regarding cracks, holes or hazardous areas—and report for immediate maintenance/repairs.
- For floors with a hard-mineral surface (tiles or polished untreated concrete, for example) a non-slip treatment can help reduce falls.
- Watch your exterior doors; ones used to come in or go outdoors will often be wet in the winter and when it rains. Consider absorbent mats along with umbrella sleeves to help mitigate issues.
- In commercial kitchens and some industrial operations, grease or oils may settle on the floor, increasing the chance of a slip-fall. A non-slip floor treatment is needed when wet or greasy floors are inevitable. Added maintenance/clean up using wood shavings or other absorbent materials may prove beneficial.
But remember, the right materials don’t replace the need for vigilant housekeeping. Floors must be properly cleaned to maintain their anti-slip surface. Some cleaning partners offer regular inspections to ensure continued floor safety. Facility managers implementing a defined cleaning regimen (complete with checklist) are taking a critical, first step in avoiding this $100 million a day problem. Some key considerations of successful approaches include:
- Peak hours, traffic patterns, weather conditions when scheduling floor cleanings
- Factor in holiday and business events that may impact flow and traffic patterns
- Drying time—and how shifts in weather impact this
- Use of barricades to redirect traffic flow
The appropriate Safety Data Sheets (SDS) offer a good starting point for properly training employees on the use of personal protection equipment and application procedures. The minimum requirements for this training can be found in the HAZCOM requirements of the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).
From the Ground Up
When selecting a commercial cleaning partner, exploring their floor cleaning training practices, including onboarding and regularly scheduled sessions, should be a key selection criteria. Why? Because the majority of slips—50% according to the National Floor Safety Institute (NFSI)—are the result of wet floors.
Some key questions to ask when interviewing or vetting potential cleaning partners:
- Do you check all areas to ensure proper drainage PRIOR to cleaning floors?
- How do you ensure all areas are highly visible?
- How do you prevent employees from taking short cuts?
- What are your equipment review/repair policies to ensure it is in good condition?
- How do you ensure the right equipment is used for a specific location / flooring type?
Another way to minimize the potential for slip and fall injuries and add longevity to walking surfaces is to evaluate each flooring type in the workplace and ensure that proper cleaning methods for that floor type are being used. Too often, cleaners will use a “one product fits all” approach—using the same cleaning product, method and frequency of cleaning for all flooring types. This thinking can create problems that contribute to unsafe walking surfaces and frequent repair/replacement issues. No single cleaning method, product or schedule works for a mix of floor types.
To get started, do an audit and document the different types of walking surfaces at your facility. Carpet, wood, linoleum, tile and stone are all common in office and even production areas. Concrete is common in production, storage and distribution areas. When dealing with concrete, note whether it is sealed, epoxy coated, brushed or acid etched. Each of these variations can change cleaning and care methods.
Next, document how each surface is currently being cleaned and maintained. Reference which cleaner or cleaners are being used and how often the area is cleaned. You may start to see issues emerge. Take your research a step further. If walking surfaces have been evaluated with a tribometer to determine their coefficient of friction, what were the findings? If any areas had an especially low rating, what is causing it?
The equipment—not just the cleaning product being used—matters, too. A mop bucket full of three-day old, murky brown water spread with a frayed, old string mop isn’t going to help any floor look better or improve safety. In fact, it could be what’s causing a floor that would otherwise be safe to be hazardous. Do you have a checklist for equipment maintenance and replacements?
Choosing the right cleaner will put floor cleaning on the right path – but if too much or too little is used, it could take the process back to square one. Too much cleaner isn’t always better, because it can prematurely age a floor, or it can leave slippery residues. Too little cleaner may fail to cut through grease or grime and allow them to build up.
Using cleaners with the correct temperature of water and using the right tools to apply them to the floor are also important parts of the cleaning equation. They are like any tools: using the right ones makes the job easier and produces better results.
Sometimes, a floor is simply past its prime and needs to be replaced. An area with crumbling concrete, or wooden areas with warped and uneven floorboards are two examples. For floors that “look OK” resurfacing them may help to eliminate or minimize slipperiness. Epoxy, non-slip or other floor preparations can add years to a walking surface, make it safer and improve the overall appearance of an area. Even something as simple and low-cost as stripping multiple layers of old wax and replacing it with a single, fresh coat can change the safety dynamics of a floor.
Installing a new floor or investing in specialty floor coatings can be costly and cumbersome to execute—that’s why proper planning and care is so critical. In many cases (more often than most people realize), using the wrong cleaner, the wrong amount of cleaner, or applying it the wrong way is the root of the problem. When this is the case, resolving the problem can be a quick and inexpensive fix.
To help determine if improper cleaning is a problem, consider doing an audit of floor cleaning procedures with a professional cleaning contractor. If in-house employees do the cleaning, an outside contractor can help determine if the current cleaners, cleaning methods and frequencies are the best choices for the types of floors in your facility. If they aren’t, they may be able to recommend different cleaners or procedures for better results.
Evaluating cleaning methods and establishing procedures for floor cleaning in every area of the facility requires a bit of time and effort; a trusted, outside commercial cleaning resource can be of help. Incorporating the effort into an overall floor safety program is one of the most effective ways to prevent just one slip and fall accident. Ultimately, that is time and energy well spent.
Titus Gardner, Vice President Arizona