Avoiding Slips and Falls: From the Alps to America

A glacier on the Matterhorn in Switzerland and your facility may, at first glance, seem to have nothing in common. Look deeper to discover solutions to slip-and-fall threats.

The safety concerns of the Glacier Palace on the Matterhorn and your facility might seem very different at first glance. However, you and the managers of the Glacier Palace share the same concerns; namely, to ensure that employees and visitors are safe and comfortable. In addition, you both want peace of mind.

The Glacier Palace, carved 65 feet below the surface of the Aletsch Glacier on the slopes of Switzerland's famous Matterhorn, is one of Zermatt's most popular tourist attractions. At 12,529 feet above sea level, this 1,100 foot-long series of ice tunnels and caves is home to a large collection of carved sculptures and displays. In order to protect the 750,000 visitors a year from slipping on the icy floor, the owners have laid slip-resistant walkways of PVC matting.

The open grid matting was selected because of its proven performance in the toughest working environments, such as heavy industrial and manufacturing plants, and for heavy-duty, all-weather external use. It performs particularly successfully in the Glacier Palace because its durability and heavy weight ensures it stays in place as it contours over the rough and uneven surface. Importantly, the open-grid construction helps to dissipate the snow, dirt and melted water, reducing underfoot hazards and making walking and standing easier in this extreme environment.

Markus Forster at Foco Lager-und Fordertechnik AG, responsible for the installation, said he's happy with the end result. “The visitors wear ski boots or heavy walking shoes,” he said. “It is encouraging to see just how well the matting performs and how it reduces the potential problems of slipping and accidents. Many people are now safely enjoying the grotto and its attractions in this very beautiful area.”

That such a simple product can work so efficiently in this extreme environment bodes well for areas with slip-and-fall risks here in the United States.

UNDERSTANDING FLOORING

The science of interaction between floor and foot is not difficult to understand and there are certain fundamentals that safety managers should know. For example, floors — all floors — and water don't mix. Certain types of tile and resilient flooring may look good, but they are lethal when wet. Standing for long periods on a hard floor will damage your body, and changes of flooring level can injure you. It's simple stuff really!

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), during 2007, there were over 27 million reported injuries; 8 million of these were fall-related and 19,000 were fatal. The National Floor Safety Institute estimates that 80 percent of all falls that result in a claim happen on a wet and slick surface.

Although improperly installed mats can be the cause of a trip, the prudent use of an anti-slip matting greatly can reduce these risks, increasing the safety of employees and visitors alike while reducing your legal and medical costs.

HEALTH AND SAFETY IN PRACTICE

It's not just in helping preventing accidents and falls that mats and floor coverings are important for occupational health and safety. Prolonged standing at work has proved to be the cause of progressive bone damage, varicose veins, poor circulation and water retention as well as back problems.

The anti-fatigue properties of open-grid matting are the ideal solution for employees who have to stand in one position or are constrained within a limited area. Matting with the correct degree of bounce can offer important health advantages, such as comfort underfoot and thermal protection from cold floors — the Matterhorn's Aletsch Glacier Ice Palace is a good example of this.

At your facility, external safety is just as important. Precautions need to be taken to reduce accidents on wet, icy and muddy ground or to create safe walkways for visitors or wheelchairs over rough or uneven terrain. A heavy-duty, all-weather, rolled-out matting is ideal for these conditions.

A good example is demonstrated at the Monkey Jungle in Florida. In this 30-acre park, management needed a walkway product that would fit in well with the natural environment, provide a stable platform for wheelchairs and mobility carts, blend in with the wood chips and foliage, be flexible enough to contour on the unlevel and curvy paths, be portable so it could be moved around and reconfigured and, most importantly, provide a safe, non-slip surface that would drain off the rain and perform well in all types of weather.

Another health benefit is that mats made from PVC innately are resistant to bacteria and fungus. This is one of the reasons why PVC is the most commonly used plastic in the health care industry.

This natural benefit can be enhanced when matting is impregnated with an anti-microbial additive that restricts the metabolic processes of micro-organisms. When used in the manufacture of the matting, it helps to eliminate potentially harmful bacteria, fungus and unpleasant odors that might develop and could shorten the useful life of the matting. More importantly, the reduction of harmful micro-organisms helps to create a healthier and happier working environment for employees and users.

Open-grid matting impregnated with anti-bacterial anti-fungal additives particularly is suited to food preparation and health care applications and in manufacturing situations where water is present or organic matter is processed. Such matting is essential in wet, barefoot areas, particularly around swimming pools and in changing-rooms and showers in order to reduce cross-infection.

The subject of industrial anti-slip, anti-fatigue matting may seem rather mundane, but should be of vital concern to the facilities safety manager. The simple precaution of using matting can make the difference between a happy productive employee and a workers' compensation case or a safe walkway and a lawsuit. Responsible flooring or safety matting distributors should be able to provide case studies and advise customers about how to overcome potential problems by recommending the right solutions.

“There are many types of matting available that are designed to provide solutions for specific problems, whether it be safety, health, weather, maintenance, water/oil spillage or fatigue issues,” advised Sally Schomp of Plastex Matting Inc. “The more information you give your distributor about your particular needs and application, the more the chances you find a long-term solution at an affordable price. Quality of materials is paramount; the right matting will last for many years with little or no maintenance and provide safety and comfort underfoot in all types of internal and external situations.”

Distributors should be able to prove how the product will perform in practice and the contribution it will make to lifecycle costs and reduced maintenance. Slip-resistance, comfortable standing surfaces and exclusion of water and external dirt are three important steps to guarantee your facility a safer and better life underfoot.

Your facility may not be around as long as a glacier, but there is no reason why you cannot offer the same level of protection — even if it doesn't come with cold Swiss ice, hot chocolate and a magnificent view.


Christopher Sykes is a qualified architect, journalist and technical copywriter. He has spent many years working in the architectural and building press and is CEO of Pressential, a US/European PR company that specializes in the building industry.

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