Slips and falls – Minimising risk?


On the surface
The slip-resistance of floor materials has received considerable attention from safety professionals. This is because every flooring material has advantages and disadvantages, and so must be assessed to ensure it’s suitability and then be properly installed and maintained to provide a safe walking surface.

As a rule, the slip-resistance of a floor material is directly proportional to the number of microscopic points that project from its surface. Concrete, for example, is a relatively safe surface, but if it is improperly cured when poured, it becomes a very slippery surface.

Asphalt tile and vinyl tiles are relatively safe if the surface treatment chosen is correct. Marble and terrazzo surfaces are inherently slippery and should be treated with a sealer containing a high percentage of solids to increase slip-resistance. Floor tiles can be very safe or very dangerous, depending on its factory finish and the standard of maintenance.

Flawless finishes and cleaning?

A cleaner’s locker is a good place to start an investigation of slip-and-fall accidents. The safety professional should determine what products are being used and how they are being combined. Are the mops dirty? Do the staff use the same mop for cleaning and disinfecting? How often is the floor finish removed, and what is used to remove it?

A floor finish is a product that is put on top of the raw floor material to protect it, to beautify it, or to change its surface characteristics. A floor finish can be used to make an unsafe floor less slippery or can inadvertently be used to make a safe floor dangerous. Finishes can be either synthetic or organic.

Acrylic finishes are common. Some companies offer special formulations for problem floor surfaces like terrazzo and marble. One manufacturer makes an acrylic finish that contains aluminum oxide flakes. This finish can be applied in restaurants and other locations where floors are usually wet. These acrylics form a one-piece floor surface through interlocking crystallization when the material dries. Acrylics make safe floor surfaces, but are labour intensive and have to be removed when the product builds up.

Improper cleaning methods can complicate matters further. Oil mops treated with petroleum base sprays can turn a safe floor into a hazardous one. Pine-tar disinfectants used on ceramic floors sometimes leave a slippery residue and cause many bathroom falls.

The National Safety Council, in America, reports that may slip accidents are caused by improper cleaning methods and recommends that floors be cleaned only with clean water. If soap or commercial strippers are used on a floor, care must be taken that no residue remains when the floor dries.

A final finish is sometimes applied to the floor by the pedestrian, who can pick up fertilizer and other chemicals on shoes and bring dangerous adherents into a building.

Individuals at Risk

If a victim has been previously injured, is disabled in some other way, or is elderly, we might assume that the physical infirmity caused the accident. But our assumptions can prevent us identifying the real root cause. There is no correct way to stand or walk. What we view as correct posture and movement is often a matter of esthetics. Handicapped people sometimes need to use a high level of conscious intervention in the walking process.

Mrs. Jones is an example. She suffered from polio as a child, and her leg muscles and hip were seriously atrophied. She used leg braces and a cane when she walked. For 35 years, she had walked on ice and snow and climbed stairs and moved about in all kinds of situations. She walked monopedially, that is, she often had only one foot in contact with the floor when she took a step. At the moment when she shifted her weight from one foot to the other, she used the cane for stability.

Mrs. Jones entered a fast food restaurant that displayed a sign indicating it was equipped for handicapped use. It was a bright day, and the restaurant was using subdued lighting for effect. The windows had been treated to cut down light transmission. When entering this environment, it takes between three to five seconds for one’s eyes to adjust to the reduced lighting levels. For Mrs. Jones, the light at floor level was less than 20 foot candle, and the contrast between the brown ceramic tile and a spilled soft drink was too low for her eyes to measure. Her right foot slipped to the right, and she fell. A close examination showed that the pores of the normally safe unglazed ceramic tile were packed with soap residue. When wet, the spot produced a dangerous condition, and the subdued lighting hid the condition.

Investigators of falls should understand the principles of human movement and have a working knowledge of floor materials, cleaning methods, and lighting.

When reconstructing a slip-and-fall accident, investigators should avoid coming to any conclusion too quickly. The victim should be extensively interviewed, and the verbal report used to focus the investigation. The slip-resistance of the floor should be measured, and accurate measurements of the light intensity and contrast should be made.

In every case, the findings should be compared to national or international building codes and industry standards. Although they are seemingly the simplest of all accidents, falls are anything but.

Minimising risks at floor level ?

Improving the traction of a slippery floor is one way to reduce slip / fall incidents. Sometimes, this can be as simple as changing floor cleaning products. More often, though, it takes a little more effort. Where it is not practical to replace flooring, etching, scoring, grooving, brushing, appliqués, coatings and other such techniques can be used to improve slip resistance.

For concrete floors in work areas, non-slip paints can be applied to increase traction. These paints are available in many different grades and colors; and can be used not only in walking areas, but also on ramps, in loading areas, and in areas where harsh chemicals are handled. Most are also formulated to be easy to clean with common cleaning equipment, such as mops and floor scrubbers. In areas where you want the natural beauty of a floor to show; clear, non-abrasive coatings can be applied to the surface.

After coatings, finishes, etc. have been installed; cleaning plays a major role in determining whether or not the floor will maintain its desired properties. No finish will last forever, but improper cleaning lessens the life span of even the toughest floor preparations.

Using the wrong detergent, using too much detergent, using dirty mops, etc. can also contribute to less than desirable results. When in doubt, contact the manufacturer of the floor preparation for cleaning recommendations. In addition, see what the manufacturer of the cleaning chemicals recommends. Both sources should be able to provide valuable insight into maximizing your floor investment.

General risk assessment for Slips, Trips and Falls

The Health and Safety Executive, in the UK, has produced a five-step plan for risk assessment. This can be downloaded from its website at:
It also gives the following advice:

1. Mark aisles and passageways. Use tape to mark out all fork lift areas, loading bays etc
2. Provide traction on slippery surfaces. Weather conditions can cause sudden, unexpected slipperiness. Ensure all your workers have suitable footwear with the correct type of sole. Use warning signs to alert workers to any problem e.g. warning signs. Anti skid tapes and doormats (securely fastened) should be used.
3. Improve safety on stairs. Tread markers and warning signs should be used
4. Mark Emergency Evacuation routes. These need to be clearly marked and visible and familiar to all staff.
5. Safety Signage and Labelling. Mark clearly any areas where forklifts might be present.
6. Warn of Temporary Hazard. Immediately alert staff to any spills or uneven floor surfaces by erecting warning signs.
7. Spill Control. Having a spill kit located in any area with potential for spillage and that can be instantly accessed is sensible. Look at preventing substances such as oil, chemicals or other materials reaching the floor by using catch trays. A dry floor is the safest option. Ensure the correct absorbent is used for the materials spilt or the situation can be made even worse.
8. Train employees. Sounds obvious, but make your staff aware of the importance or good housekeeping – not leaving equipment around, alerting colleagues to spillages, cordoning off a slippery area etc and always replacing items to their designated storage space.

Safety Signs Regulations
The revised BS 5499-1 is to improve the technical representation of safety signs and introduces the following key principle: It recommends the use of upper and lower case lettering – visually impaired people read and understand sentences or single word
messages with an initial case letter more clearly e.g. Warning, Fire Exit etc. All Brady safety signs now comply with this new technical standard.

In Great Britain, the Health & Safety (Safety Signs & Signals) Regulations 1996, put into practice the European Safety Signs Directive (92/58/EEC). Designed to standardise safety signs and so reducing the risk of misunderstandings from language and literacy problems across the whole European community.

How does it affect you?

The above regulations represent international best practice. As a r5esult employers should use a safety sign where a risk would otherwise go uncontrolled. All safety signs should contain a pictorial symbol. Safety signs now encompass other safety identification by means of pipe and valve marking, audible signals and illuminated signs. The regulations encourage the increased use of symbols and this includes all fire safety signs. Use of Brady Safety Signs will mean all of your signs comply with all current British and European Legislation.

Most accidents are preventable

Most slip, trip, and fall accidents are also preventable. According to OSHA, in America, “there are many situations that may cause slips, trips, and falls, such as ice, wet spots, grease, polished floors, loose flooring or carpeting, uneven walking surfaces, clutter, electrical cords, open desk drawers and filing cabinets, and damaged ladder steps.

The controls needed to prevent these hazards are usually obvious, but too often ignored, such as keeping walkways and stairs clear of scrap and debris; coiling up extension cords, lines, and hoses when not in use; keeping electrical and other wires out of the way; wearing lug soles in icy weather; clearing parking lots, stairs, and walkways in snowy weather; and using salt/sand as needed.

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