Using Color to Prevent Slips and Falls

Slips, trips, and falls are much more serious than most people realize. About 14 percent of all accidental deaths are due to injuries sustained from a slip and fall,1 accounting for the deaths of approximately 12,000 people each year. These accidents happen in the home, in shopping centers, in the workplace, in supermarkets and many other public places. The most common cause for these accidents is people unknowingly walking on slippery or dangerous floor areas.

Along with resulting in deaths and injuries, slip and fall accidents often lead to lawsuits. Historically, juries have awarded millions of dollars if they find that the plaintiff – shopping center, supermarket, school, workplace, etc. – was at fault and could have prevented the incident. There are no laws or exact standards that help determine if someone is legally responsible for a slip and fall accident. Each case must be evaluated and decided upon its own merits. However, some general guidelines have evolved that have helped juries decide whether someone should be awarded damages.

To be legally responsible for injuries suffered as a result of a slip, trip, or fall on someone else’s property, the owner of the premises must fall into one of the following categories:

  • Must have caused the spill, worn or torn spot, or slippery or dangerous surface
  • Must have known of the dangerous surface but have done nothing about it
  • Should have known of the dangerous surface because a “reasonable” person taking care of the property would have discovered it and removed, repaired, or prevented it.2

    Color Affects Behavior
    The best way to avoid liability and lawsuits is to keep accidents from happening in the first place, and one of the most obvious ways to prevent slip-and-fall accidents – and one of the simplest – is to place safety signs around dangerous areas or walkways. However, a black-and-white safety sign alone is not enough. Studies have show that color affects behavior and that certain colors elicit a greater response than others.

    For instance, in one survey, 1,169 individuals of different backgrounds and who speak different languages were asked to rate the level of perceived hazard according to color. The results demonstrated that the colors red and orange communicated “hazard” to all groups, no matter the person’s background or language spoken. The study also found that though color played a pivotal role in designating warning or possible hazard, ironically, “the vast majority of product warning research has not considered color as an application of standards and guidelines.”3

    The same researchers, conducting further studies, examined the effect of color on compliance with printed warnings on products and labels. Though color was again found to be under-utilized as a means of indicating a hazard, the participants in the study indicated that they associated a higher likelihood of injury with labels printed using the colors red and orange, and would change their behavior accordingly to avoid an accident. It was noted that even the word “deadly” was perceived to be less hazardous when printed in green or white than when printed in red or orange.

    These findings indicate the powerful influence of color when it comes to avoiding injury. Accordingly, to prevent slip, trip, and fall accidents, the color of a safety cone or the printed information on it should be a bright orange or red.

    The Use of Color in the Jansan Industry
    No universal color-coding system has been accepted for the jansan industry, either for warnings or cleaning-tool usage, and there are wide variations in what each color signifies. For instance, in Australia yellow indicates infectious or hazardous waste. In the United States, the color yellow is usually just a cautionary sign and not a warning or hazard indication.4

    Though this is an example of an inconsistency in how one color is used in two different situations, most countries have no color-coding system whatsoever. The countries leading the way in the use of color for our industry are England and now the United States.

    “We believe that color-coding of cleaning tools and tasks is vitally important and should be universally accepted around the world,” said Bruno Niklaus, vice president of marketing for Unger Enterprises, which carries a complete line of color-coded floor tools and restroom cleaning products.

    The British Institute of Cleaning Sciences (BICS), the leading advocate for the use of color-coding in our industry, believes that implementing a color-coding system for the cleaning industry would prevent cross contamination, promote safety, and facilitate training. BISC recommends that different cleaning products have different colors based on task and usage. The color red, as an example, would be used on all cleaning tools used for cleaning washroom floors, toilets and urinals.

    In the jansan industry, some experts believe that color-coding can significantly foster safety and help with training. “Colors are universally understood,” said Roger McFadden, vice president of Coastwide Laboratories in Wilsonville, Ore. “With so many languages being spoken in the United States and the influx of non-English-speaking people…color is a way to communicate with them.”

    Other Preventive Measures
    Although color is one of the best ways to indicate a hazard, avoid danger and educate cleaning professionals, there are other means available to building owners and facility service providers (FSPs) to reduce the possibility of slip, trip, and fall accidents occurring in the first place. The National Safety Council recommends the following:

  • Hazard recognition. Be ever alert for areas and situations that could possibly cause an injury or accident.
  • Hazard avoidance. Encourage pedestrians to walk around a possible hazard by use of brightly colored, red or orange safety cones or other forms of warning. If they must walk through the area, encourage pedestrians to take smaller steps, avoid sharp turns, and walk carefully with both hands free.
  • Hazard control. Alert building owners or supervisory/maintenance personnel as soon as a potential hazard is discovered.
  • Appropriate footwear. Because of the seriousness of slip, trip, and fall accidents and the potential liability issues, building owners can ask that pedestrians wear proper footwear in their facilities. This usually means the wearing of shoes at all times, especially rubber-soled shoes with some kind of traction pattern.

    With the average person taking 18,000 steps every day, preventing slip, trip, and fall accidents is imperative. Though building owners and FSPs cannot be responsible for those who walk carelessly and ignore hazard warnings or the possibility of danger, they can do much to prevent accidents from happening in the first place. Color is a powerful and universally understood indicator of potential danger, and should be used to help people avoid injury.

    1 National Safety Council.
    2 Proving Fault in Slip and Fall Accidents. Nolo Press, Berkeley, CA, 2003
    3 C. C. Braun and N. C. Silver. Interaction of Signal Word and Color on Warning Labels: Differences in Perceived Hazard and Behavioral Compliance. National Library of Medicine, Nov. 1995.
    4 ANSI Z535.2 Safety Color Code.

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