You and Your Clients: Partners in Safety

July 22, 2003
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Floor care is divided into four basic categories: initial, daily, periodic and restorative cleaning. Many companies specializing in the care of vinyl composition tile (VCT) in commercial buildings such as grocery stores, strip malls, retail stores and the like usually perform the periodic and restorative cleaning, while the client is expected to perform the daily cleaning. When two entities are responsible for floor care, a few challenges can arise, including the issue of safety.

You and your customers should be partners when it comes to floor safety. Today, slip-and-fall accidents cost companies millions of dollars a year. Many of these accidents could have been avoided with the right floor care safety program.

A good floor care safety program starts with the right attitude. Safety should be your first consideration before conducting any floor care activity. Safety is a state of mind. It means conducting yourself in a thoughtful, deliberate, and safe manner by making a conscious decision to make safety a priority before, during and after any floor cleaning activity. This same attitude must be understood and exhibited by your clients for a partnership to be successful.

Before
Technicians must be thoroughly trained before beginning any floor care procedures. A portion of the training program should be dedicated to safety. A good training program should be interactive, and include a test to ensure retention. Document the training and keep accurate records of what was covered. Have the attendees sign off stating they understood all aspects of the program and will adhere to all safety requirements set forth by the company. This type of training is important and can reduce your liability, especially if you are involved in a lawsuit.

Equipment, chemicals, procedures, vehicle and general workplace safety are important parts of any safety program. Here are three items that are often overlooked but easily preventable:

  • Improper footwear (general safety)
  • Poor safety perimeter (procedural safety)
  • An uneducated customer (partnership)

    Improper footwear. Thousands of cleaners each year are injured due to slip and fall accidents while stripping floors (stripping being defined as removing all existing coats of sealers and/or floor finish).

    Once a stripping solution is applied to a floor coated with finish it begins to emulsify the finish. The emulsified finish is very slippery and is the cause of many slip fall accidents. Most of these slip fall accidents could have easily been avoided had the technician been wearing a pair of anti-slip or stripping safety shoes. There are several types to choose from but they all have one thing in common – the bottoms have an abrasive pad (just like a stripping pad) that provides great traction, which helps prevent the technician from slipping and falling.

    Setting safety perimeters. Building occupants, visitors and others may come into the work area and slip and fall on a wet floor. Many of these accidents could have been avoided had the technician set a proper safety perimeter. To set a safety perimeter you need plenty of caution signs, blockades (the taller the better), placards, tape, rope and in some cases a guard.

    Use signs and blockades at the beginning and end of each work area, tape off doorways and entries with caution tape to prevent access. Those of you presently doing floors know how hard it is to keep people off and out of the work area and, in some cases, especially heavily occupied areas, having someone there to warn occupants and redirect traffic may be required.

    Of course, the best time to clean floors is when the facility is unoccupied. Unfortunately that is not always possible; that is why a strong safety perimeter is important. Consult a distributor of safety products to help select the best safety perimeter equipment for your company.

    During
    There are many safety considerations to keep in mind while performing the work. Here are just a few overlooked items:

    Solution control. Employ good solution control measures to prevent any solution from going into unwanted areas, e.g. under locked doors, onto carpeted areas or into electrical outlets on the floor.

    Safety Perimeter and Shoes. Move your safety perimeter equipment as needed and make sure your safety shoes don’t fill up with excessive slurry. Slurry is the combination of the emulsified floor finish, soil and other contaminates mixed with the stripping solution. The material attached to the bottom of anti-slip/safety shoes is nothing more than a stripping pad cut to the shape of a shoe. Like stripping pads, these pads can also fill up with slurry and become ineffective. When this happens, rinse the slurry from the shoe or replace it with a new shoe or pad (changing pads is a lot less costly than a workers’ compensation claim).

    Used razor blades. Keeping track of discarded razor blades used to scrape corners and edges. Don’t leave them lying on the floor, on a shelf or on any other content item. I recall the story of a cleaner who left his used razor blade on the candy shelf of a convenient store. The next day a small child picked up the blade and cut her fingers. The cleaner learned about it from the little girl’s attorney.

    After
    After the job make sure to tidy up for safety, put contents back if required and inspect the entire job for potential safety related issues.

    After the job is completed, training may be required for those maintaining the floor between your visits. It may not be your job to train those who will be maintaining the floor daily; however, to protect the client’s floor cleaning investment, reduce potential slip-and-fall accidents, and increase your chance of retaining the job, it may not be a bad idea to offer this training as a value-added service.

    The Partnership
    Unfortunately, many customers believe that once you take possession of the floor, they no longer have to perform daily cleaning. As a professional it is your job to inform your customers that a good floor care program is a partnership, with both parties doing their part.

    The primary purpose of a floor safety partnership program is to educate your customer about floor safety and the prevention of slip-and-fall accidents. This starts with the initial sales presentation and is reinforced throughout the relationship. Educating your customers about floor safety issues, causes and consequences will make you stand a part from your competitor while reducing your liability concerns for everyone concerned.

    Educating your customer is important. You can also enhance the program and provide (for free or not) a floor safety kit to include “wet floor” signs, safety cones and other safety identification equipment, along with complete instructions where and when to use them. Each program can be customized to meet the specific needs of the floor. It may include training those who will be maintaining the floor between your visits and/or putting together a complete floor care package with all the necessary equipment, materials and supplies needed to perform the daily cleaning. Why? Because a clean floor is a safe floor; daily maintenance will make your job easier and the floor will retain a high level of appearance.

    Work with your supplier on this. I have found it works best to have your supplier put together a package for your client and you present it to them, rather than you buying the equipment and re-selling it to your client. It will also strengthen your strategic relationship with your supplier.

    You need to familiarize yourself with all aspects of floor safety and prevention. To learn more about floor safety, continue to read industry trade magazines and consult other resources. I recommend “Slip and Fall Prevention Made Easy – A Comprehensive Guide to Preventing Accidents” by Russell J. Kendzior of the National Floor Safety Institute.

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