Cleaning & Restoration Association News

Safely Stripping Floors

September 25, 2000
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Utilizing precautionary measures and protective personal equipment, hard floor maintenance technicians can increase their productivity and safety levels.

Hard floor maintenance technicians are constantly subjected to dangerous situations, that is to say when you are constantly walking on a wet surface, you put yourself in harms way. To take it one step further, the most dangerous situation that you will encounter is the stripping procedure—re-emulsified floor finish and extremely slippery surface. The technician in charge has the responsibility of safety for the crew, as well as everyone else in the building. In addition to slip-and-fall safety, there are other precautions technicians must be take.

The Safety Perimeter

Protecting the customer is critical. They do not know the true danger of walking on stripping solution. Therefore, you must keep them out of the work area, make them aware that you are working in the area and warn that what you are doing is dangerous.

Always have plenty of wet floor cones, placards or signs. In fact, when stripping a floor, take additional wet floor signs. Most hard floor maintenance technicians use 3" yellow caution tape to cordon off an area. I recommend using 3" red danger tape when stripping floors.

Set up some of your wet floor signs away from your work area to forewarn persons in the building that they are coming into a work area. Closer to your work area, set up additional wet floor signs and attached the red danger tape to them to completely seal off the area. There should be only one access point into the work area and that is where you and your crew will be working.

Achieving a secure safety perimeter can be very difficult in some environments, but not impossible.

Crew Safety

Keeping the customer out of the work area is very important. Keeping the crew safe can be just as difficult. When you work on hard floor surfaces everyday, you get a feeling of invisibility that could cost you at some point. Before any strip job, the crew should get together and discuss the dangers involved in the job. If you are working alone, take a moment to think about the potential dangers you will face.

Equipment

The stripping procedure requires more chemicals, equipment and labor than any of the other hard floor maintenance procedures. Therefore, there is a tendency for crews to clutter the work area. This can be very dangerous and impede the efficiency of your progress. When setting the work area, stage your equipment in the order it will be used and have it set out of the walkway so there are no trip hazards. Arrange chemicals so they are set back out of the way until they are needed. Keeping a clear walkway will reduce the likelihood of tripping over your own products.

Check your electrical cords at the office before you get to the job site, and make sure they are free from cuts, tears and exposed wires. Use a ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) to reduce the possibility of electrical shock.

Chemicals

Stripping chemicals are high on the alkaline side and concentrated. This makes them harsh chemicals that could cause chemical burns. When pouring stripping chemicals into your bucket, wear safety goggles to avoid splashes. Do not put your bare hands in stripping solution; use rubber gloves or risk hand burns. Also, you may want to wear rubber boots. I always like to take a spare set of clothes in my duffel bag in case of a chemical spill. Stripping solution on clothes can adhere to the skin and cause burning or discomfort.

Safety Shoes

The main problem with stripping solution is that the floor becomes very slippery to walk on. Technicians place themselves at risk by not paying attention to what they are doing or how they are walking. There are many different options available when it comes to footwear. Most technicians wear athletic-type shoes everyday; they are comfortable and provide pretty good traction on most floors. If you like tennis shoes, then get white or gum rubber soles that do not bleed like black soles can. Also make sure they have a wide-spaced tread, which helps to disperse the re-emulsified finish out from under the shoe. Smooth-soled shoes are an accident waiting to happen. If your shoes are worn to this point, get new shoes.

There are various safety stripping shoes and attachments on the market. Find the type that best suit your needs and then practice wearing them. The biggest problem with most of them is that they tend to load up with re-emulsified finish quickly, so you have to keep them clean. They also tend to track this residue into other areas, so you need to take them off when not in the immediate stripping area.

These are small inconveniences when you consider the possibility of slipping and falling.

Work Safely

Shoes alone will not make you any safer—you must practice safety. When you applying stripping solution, start with the perimeter, then fill in the middle, always staying out of the solution itself. If you have to walk on the slurry, do not take big steps. Shuffle your feet and keep them in constant contact with the floor surface.

When you are agitating the floor with a 175-RPM rotary floor machine, work into the area from the starting point. This will leave you a safe area to step onto when entering the strip zone. If you continue to work into the area, then you will always be standing on a stripped area.

Do not detail the corners, edges and baseboards until after the solution has been removed and the first rinse is complete. This will ensure that you are not subjecting your clothes to stripping solution and you will not be slipping when you try to stand or squat.

While in the process of detailing, you will be using a putty knife and a razor knife. Take precautions against cutting yourself by using cut prevention gloves. Put them under your rubber gloves so if you have an accident, you will cut the rubber glove and not the hand.

Also, wear kneepads to protect your knees from the hard surface. Get the type that have the hard plastic cup; they tend to work much better than the soft cup type. In large areas, this becomes a very important item because you will find yourself on your knees.

Summary

The stripping procedure is a very dangerous one. Take your time to evaluate safety practices that you will use in the field. Be sure that a double safety perimeter is set and that everyone in the facility is notified. Make sure your crews are prepared for the job by going over safety items. Make sure proper safety equipment is used to get the job done. If you approach your stripping procedure professionally, you will have much better results in safety and productivity.

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