ICS Magazine

Safety and the Floor Maintenance Technician

June 15, 2004


The first safety message a child receives is the word "No," usually in a very vocal manner. Rather than see our loved ones hurt, we instinctively give a shout to protect them from harm.

Generally, this method of safety distracts the child from what they are doing or about to do long enough for them to realize what the danger is, or time enough for mom or dad to come to the rescue. The safety lecture soon follows.

How does this relate to hard-floor maintenance? Hard-floor maintenance is a dangerous occupation. As professionals, we understand the dangers of floor maintenance and work around them just as any other trade would. However, like children, people who do not understand our business can wander into dangerous situations and not even know it. It is the job of the technicians to become the parents and protect those people, as well as themselves, from harm.

"Danger: Wet Floor"
It is late at night and the floor is being stripped and refinished. Re-emulsified floor finish is the equivalent of walking on broken eggs, only slipperier. Experienced personnel shuffle across these floors, maintaining constant contact with the floor surface at all times or wear non-slip safety footwear.

Unfortunately, many people look at a wet floor as an inconvenience and think it safe to walk across as long as they are careful. With a wave of a hand and an "it's all right, I'll be careful," they traverse the area as if walking on a wet sidewalk. In an instant, feet are flying up in the air and the individual finds him or herself staring straight up at the lights, wondering what happened, feeling pain and the discomfort of the stripping solution soaking into their clothing.

When someone slips and falls in a service area, an investigation is initiated. Generally, the determination is that something could have been done to prevent the accident, it was not or else it was done incorrectly, and liability is assessed, usually at the expense of the technician and his or her company. This prompts the question, what can we do to make the work area safer?

Setting a Safety Perimeter
Setting a safety perimeter around the work area is one of the most important but often overlooked aspects of hard floor maintenance service. It is not good enough that you have "Wet Floor" plastered all over your bucket; that bucket is usually with you. When you set a safety perimeter, it needs to be stationary where everyone can see it. In fact, a safety perimeter should be an obstacle that most people will not want to bother with.

Many times accidents happen because of assumption. A technician may be in a hurry and decide he does not need to get the safety signage out because there is no one in the building. This can be a costly mistake. The absence of signage on a job site is the absolute worst thing that could happen. I have been in buildings where I thought I was totally alone, only to open a door and find a party going on. If you do not have safety signage out and someone slipped on your floor, you and your company would be liable. It's that simple.

Wet-floor barricades are large objects that are difficult to move. They are particularly useful in large facilities that are in operation 24 hours a day. These barricades are freestanding and interconnecting, making it very difficult to ignore them. They are somewhat expensive and may not be the right answer for smaller operations.

Wet-floor signs are visual reminders that hard-floor maintenance services are being performed in the area. There are many types available, but they all carry the same message: do not enter the floors are wet. Always be sure to have ample signs and warnings to protect the employees of the facility and the technicians on the job.

Wallmount signs attach to vertical surfaces using magnets or adhesives. If nothing else is available, a handmade sign will work, even if it comprises a felt-tip pen and a piece of paper. Make sure it is large enough to be visible from a distance. There are also wallmount-type signs that wedge in doorways to block entry to the room.

Cones allow for sign placement on the floor in open areas, doorways and halls. Some cones come with additional chains or ropes that extend the barrier of the cone to the next one. This allows the technician to rope off an entire area. Some cones are equipped with recording devices that have a pre-recorded warning or allow the technician to record a warning. These types of cones are activated by motion detectors and light sensors, which play the warnings when anyone approaches.

The use of placards instead of cones in open floor areas offers some benefits. Placards are foldable, making them easier to store on a janitorial cart or in a van. Because they are smaller and take up less space, more can be brought to the job site.

Using caution tape in conjunction with cones or placards increases the security of the area. Securing doorways with caution tape makes it much more difficult for unauthorized personnel to access work areas.

Danger tape is identical to caution tape except the word "Danger" replaces caution and the color of the plastic tape is red. Danger tape sends a much more serious message. The cost for safety signage is relatively cheap when you consider the cost of an accident. Sound investments generate higher profits by eliminating potential dangers before they become liabilities.

The Final Barrier
The final barrier is the technician. Individuals who are not hard-floor maintenance technicians may not know the potential danger they are heading into. In some situations they ignore the signs altogether, assuming there is no danger, or they may even develop a hostile attitude toward the technician and enter the work area anyway. That's when "No," comes into play. It may not be the most polite approach, but it could save someone's life.