ICS Magazine

Safety from the Bottom Up

July 22, 2003
Feet don’t do your thinking for you, but they will let you know when you’re slipping into trouble. And by the time you realize it, you could be sprawled across a slippery floor with bumps and bruises.

With workplace injuries from slipping on the rise and workers’ compensation claims rising accordingly, businesses today are searching for ways to better protect employees and customers while lowering insurance costs.

Slips and falls are the leading cause of occupational accidents and result in more than 300,000 injuries each year. They are the primary reason why work-related accidents cost American businesses $34 billion annually. Only lower back pain and lifting injuries exceed slips and falls in the number of workers’ compensation claims filed. These largely preventable accidents can result in head injuries, back injuries, lacerations, fractures, pulled muscles and contusions.

According to the National Safety Council, the average worker’s compensation claim per slip is $6,700. The financial impact of an injury affects both the business and the employee. There are cost efficient and simple prevention options to lessen these risks. Along with the benefit of cutting insurance costs, businesses should use the best available options to help protect employees, customers and visitors.

Slips Happen

Many slips occur when there is not enough friction between footwear and a walking surface, or when the walking surface is irregular. The most common causes of slips are wet or oily surfaces, loose or unanchored rugs and mats which were not properly designed to function as stand alone matting, and flooring or other walking surfaces that have different degrees of traction in various areas resulting in slippery spots.

A walking surface that poses a safety hazard often is the result of grease, water or ice making the surface slippery. Even the slightest presence of dust, water, grease or metal shavings can make certain surfaces slippery enough to cause concern for injury.

Falls also occur due to the absence of friction and a change in the walking surface. Falls can be defined as same level or multi-level. In commercial industries such as restaurant, education, and retail, same-level falls are the most common, as employees and customers are most often walking on a level floor within a building. In construction industries, multi-level falls, such as falls from a ladder or a building, are among the most common.

Prevention is the Key

Proper maintenance procedures are essential to help prevent slips and falls. Management should encourage maintenance professionals and housekeeping staff to report and clean up wet spills immediately.

Changing or modifying potentially dangerous walking surfaces is the next step in preventing slips and falls. Recoating or replacing worn floors and installing slip-resistant mats improve floor safety and further reduce the risk of injury.

To reduce the likelihood of costly mishaps, buildings can be designed, enhanced and maintained with slip-resistant materials. Many slips and falls are preventable with a combination of common sense, proper cleaning techniques, and slip-resistant enhancing products.

Matting Options

When choosing matting options, the two most important factors to consider are whether the mat will be in a wet or dry work environment, and what level of traffic the mat will incur. With that knowledge, the right mat can greatly decrease the probability of injuries likely to occur from slips and falls.

Mats with a textured solid top provide a high coefficient of friction for secure footing. This type of matting also allows debris to stay on top of the mat for easy cleaning and mopping. A textured-top mat is the best option for dry work environments where there may still be some kind of a potential for spills. It is important to remember that all work areas are at risk for slips and falls caused by wet spills or debris.

Matting that is textured on the top or in a Z-web design provides a slip-resistant surface when dry and wet. The open Z-web design allows liquids and small debris to fall through for secure footing and fewer slips and falls.

To provide additional traction in high-traffic areas or wet work environments, use slip-resistant tapes and treads. The mineral surface that constitutes tapes and treads provides a higher coefficient of friction that improves sure-footedness.

Depending upon the thickness of the mat and anticipated use conditions, it may be necessary to have floor mats with beveled edges to best prevent slips and falls. In addition to safety benefits, slip-resistant flooring by use of matting is dual purpose and can help to prevent and reduce fatigue.

Where mats are utilized as a preventive measure, proper cleaning of the mats is important. A mat that is not adequately cleaned, maintained or replaced at the end of its useful life may actually end up being worse than having no mat at all when it comes to safety. It is important to clean the top surface of the mat as well as underneath the mat. If sufficient dirt and debris are left lying beneath mats and allowed to build up, it could allow a mat to slide or shift.

For special situations involving the need to remove and absorb substances, such as an oily liquid, some manufacturers have absorbent materials that are designed to be used in conjunction with certain matting products. The absorbent material is designed to soak up liquids until they can be disposed of properly. With less moisture sitting on top of the mat there is less risk for slips and falls.

Educate Those at Risk

In order to best protect employees from injuries that can be caused by slips and falls, management and employees must be able to recognize the potential hazards. Furthermore, make the identification of potential slip and fall hazards a mandatory part of regular safety inspections. Train employees to be aware of and report any potential hazards, and then take appropriate steps to make the area safer.

To implement the best prevention practices, develop and maintain a slip/fall prevention program. Hold informative training sessions regularly on floor safety for new and current employees. Create a floor-safety committee responsible for daily inspections and reporting potential floor hazards. A floor-safety inspection program will identify potential risk areas for slips and falls and allow for correction before a business incurs accident claims, lost work hours and additional insurance costs.

Employees also play a role in preventing slips and falls. Employees can reduce their risk of injury with the following tips:

  • Wear no- or low-heel, non-skid footwear.
  • Take your time and pay attention to the walkway in front of you.
  • Adjust your stride to a pace that is suitable for the surface you are walking on.
  • If you encounter a wet surface, walk with the feet pointed slightly outward.
  • Make wide turns when approaching a corner.
  • In weather hazard conditions such as snow, rain or sleet, walk more slowly to account for traction changes.

    Chalk One Up for Teamwork

    Preventing slips and falls in the workplace requires compliance from employees and management. The most important and proven prevention is for people to be aware of their surroundings and pay attention to the floor in front of them. While a clean, protected floor can lead to a bright future, an unkempt floor littered with safety hazards can lead to increased insurance costs, workers’ compensation claims and lost wages for an employee due to days away from work.

    Floor safety is a team effort and with the right education and corrective measures, such as proper cleaning techniques and mats, your team can be in the winner’s seat.