A sealed concrete surface without cracks or uneven surfaces may provide good traction but it can turn slippery when wet
A sealed concrete surface without cracks or uneven surfaces may provide good traction, but it can turn slippery when wet.

Make: Put the Brakes on Slips and Falls

Slips and falls are the primary cause of lost days from work. Studying the interplay of workers' shoes with floors is a good first-step to a solution.

Not only do shavings, dust and clutter make production areas look dirty and unkempt, but they can also contribute to slip and fall incidents. Those are the leading causes of lost-work injuries, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Problems with walking surfaces cause more than half of all slip and fall injuries, according to the National Floor Safety Institute (NFSI).  Incorrect footwear is another significant factor, contributing to about 25% of incidents. 

Having a plan that includes a variety of elements to improve floor safety conditions helps reduce the chance for injuries and improve overall facility safety.

Evaluate Floor Characteristics

The composition, age and maintenance of walking surfaces in production areas are all factors that should be evaluated when establishing a floor safety plan.  Some hazards, such as cracks, uneven surfaces and liquids or debris on the floor, are relatively easy to identify and document.  

To quantify the overall safety of a walking surface, the coefficient of friction (CoF) can be calculated using a machine called a tribometer.  These devices can measure the CoF on a variety of surfaces, both wet and dry.  The higher the CoF, the safer a walking surface is. OSHA recommends a CoF of at least 0.50, but does not specify a test method for achieving this rating.

ANSI and ASTM International have established a number of test methods for measuring the CoF of both wet and dry surfaces, as well as standards for floor matting and other materials used to improve traction on walking surfaces. 

Knowing the CoF of walking surfaces is important because it identifies whether the surface is likely to contribute to a slip and fall incident.  However, a surface test that shows an adequate or even a high CoF should not automatically be considered safe.  If conditions can exist that are different from the conditions under which the surface was tested, it could still contribute to an incident.  For example, a sealed concrete surface with no cracks or uneven surfaces may have a high CoF when it is dry, but could be very slippery when it is wet.   

Surfaces, especially those that are treated, change as they age, so it is important to reevaluate them periodically.  Having a baseline CoF provides a point of comparison and can help facilities create a preventative maintenance schedule to ensure that walking surfaces remain as safe as possible.

Walk a Mile in Worker Shoes

In too many facilities, issuing slip-resistant footwear is the lone effort made to improve floor safety and reduce slip and fall injuries.  While proper footwear can certainly help to reduce the chance for incidents, it should not be relied upon as the only element of a floor safety plan.

It is essential to qualify all slip-resistant claims on footwear.  Just because a tag attached to a shoe says that it's slip resistant, it is not an automatic guarantee that it will work in all situations.  Before purchasing slip-resistant footwear, know its strengths and limitations.

Slip-resistant footwear for restaurant and food workers has been around longer than slip-resistant footwear for industry, and is much more visible in direct mail and internet media.  It is also more readily available at department stores and local retailers than industrial slip-resistant shoes are.     

Footwear designed for restaurant and food workers has soles and tread patterns that are specifically designed to reduce slips and falls due to water and/or food oils on a floor.  They were not designed to enhance floor safety in the presence of coolants, cutting oils, solvents or other industrial chemicals.  The composition of the soles and the tread patterns needed for industrial fluids are often different than footwear made for the food industry. 

The slip-resistance of footwear can vary depending on soles and tread patterns.

Shoes are made to stand up to different industrial working environments. No matter what industry the shoes are used in, employers should work with the vendor to establish a realistic change-out schedule. Although workers are likely to wear out shoes at slightly different rates, suppliers are typically able to provide an estimate of how long footwear should be expected to last.  Depending on the work environment, slip-resistant footwear, like other safety footwear that is worn daily, usually lasts between three and nine months. 

Getting Traction

Installing new, high-traction flooring is not an option for most facilities, and sometimes the expense is unwarranted. One of the simplest and least expensive alternatives is to review the care and cleaning routines for floors throughout the facility.

Teaching crews to use the correct types of cleaning chemicals in the right volumes at the right intervals may be all that is needed to increase safety or restore a slip-resistant finish.  More isn't always better when it comes to cleaning floors.  Using too much cleaner or the wrong type of cleaner can cause residues or films to build up on a walking surface, and can contribute to slip and fall injuries.  Conversely, using too little cleaner or not cleaning often enough allows contaminants to remain and pose a hazard.

Applying anti-slip floor coatings that contain fine aggregate is another option that can help improve traction, especially in areas that are constantly wet.  Floor grates and anti-fatigue matting that allow liquids to drain below the walking surface are two additional alternatives to increase safety in wet areas.  

Prepare for Spills

Leaks and spills can range from being minor inconveniences to major disruptions.  Being prepared to quickly and efficiently clean up spills will help minimize the downtime they cause, and lessen the risk for the spill to contribute to a slip and fall incident.  

Floor grates and anti-fatigue matting can allow liquids to drain below the walking surface, reducing slip hazards.

Make incidental spill cleanup everyone's responsibility, and make it easy for everyone to do their part to clean up spills as they happen.  No one wants to walk to a remote stockroom to retrieve cleanup supplies.  Stocking spill response supplies in spill-prone areas, such as production lines, fluid transfer stations, waste collection areas and warehouses provides those responding to the spill with quick access to the materials and tools needed to prevent the spill from spreading and to begin cleanup immediately.

Although emergency and large spills should be left for those with proper levels of training, incidental spill response can be incorporated as a standard operating procedure for all line workers.

Keep it Clean

Production quotas and tight deadlines are two common excuses for not maintaining a regular cleaning schedule.  Unfortunately, these busy times are also an ideal opportunity for leaks, drips and clutter to accumulate and cause problems.

Allowing time at the end of each shift, even as little as five minutes, is usually all that is needed to help maintain a safer work environment.  Providing an adequate number of booms, dust pans, waste cans and other cleanup tools facilitates this process and helps keep everyone on task.  A daily cleanup schedule also helps to maintain floors, extend the life of slip-resistant footwear and support other safety efforts.  

Plans in Motion

Floor safety plans do not need to be elaborate to work well.  In fact, the easier it is for everyone to understand the plan and how its elements will help make their workplace safer and reduce the chance for injuries, the more likely it is to succeed.    

Karen Hamel is a technical writer for New Pig Corporation (www.newpig.com/pig/US). 

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