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ASSE: Drawing the Big Picture for Slips and Falls

According to David Natalizia of Dynamic Safety Inc. and Keith Vidal of Vidal Engineering Inc., the best way to reduce slips, trips and falls is to examine the big picture: look at your slip and fall data, determine the costs of injuries versus fixes, prioritize the challenges, follow-up and collect data.

"Ripping out a floor and putting in a new one can be expensive" in the short-term, Natalizia admitted, but a cost-saving measure in the long-run. As an example, Natalizia discussed the slip and fall history of a restaurant with hundreds of attendees of the American Society of Safety Engineers Professional Development Conference on June13. The restaurant, with 160 employees, experienced an average of 18 slip and fall claims per year, at an average cost of $82,000 per claim.

The restaurant owner adopted a multi-faceted program, examining types of floor surfaces, maintenance activities such as mopping and cleaning spills promptly and footwear worn by employees. The end result after a year: No claims.

"Have an approach. Move from reactive to proactive. A clear philosophy guides action," he noted. "Mopheads alone when to change them, how many clean ones to have on hand are a topic for discussion. You don't need to start from scratch.

Natalizia said people slip and fall when the walking conditions encountered are different from what is expected. The more different the conditions, the more likely the potential for an accident.

"The first questions for preventing slips and falls are: How will the walkway be used? What environmental conditions exist?" said Natalizia. He said to look at slips and falls as a triangle, with floor factors such as surface texture as the base of the triangle. The other legs of the triangle are footwear (Is it appropriate for the floor conditions and the job?) and walking style (Are employees running or carrying things as they move along the walkway?)

Some companies tout cleaners and floor coatings that promise to reduce the slip factor. Natalizia cautioned against "solutions in a bottle," comparing them to the patent medicines offered years ago. Some work, he acknowledged, and many do not, "so use caution before you adopt a wide-spread surface solution."

"Most dry surfaces are fine," he added. "It's when they become contaminated become wet that it becomes a problem."

And shoes are not the answer, he said. "All that it requires in the United States to be able to mark the soles of shoes as 'slip-resistant' is a machine that can mark something 'slip-resistant." Plus, if your facility is a restaurant or public venue, or is open to the public or contractors, you will not have control over the shoes worn by your visitors. What you can control, he said, is the condition of the floor.

Vidal started off his presentation with a photograph of retrofitted stairway. Half the area in the photo was slippery cobblestones, pitched at a fairly steep angle. The other half was a short staircase of five or six steps, obviously added many years after the street was built. Although single steps or short flights of steps are not recommended, Vidal noted that the addition of those few steps had dramatically decreased slips and falls in that area.

He directed the audience to building codes, ANSI Z1264.2 and to ASTM F1637, "Standard Practice for Safe Walking Surfaces" for additional information about maintaining floor surfaces and walkways. These standards also address things like curb cuts, the "allowable" height differences for walking surfaces, identification for steps, etc.

"Most surfaces you deal with in your workplace where people have access would be considered a walkway," said Vidal.

When looking at mats, equipment and fixtures, he suggested examining proper application, quality of products, reliability and ease of use. As for physical maintenance of walkways:

  • Repair it when it breaks.
  • Patch it when it wears.
  • Keept if working throughout its service life.

Contaminate mitigation is another way to prevent or eliminate slips and falls, according to Vidal. He suggested safety managers:

  • Respond quickly to weather conditions such as rain or ice;
  • Reduce the amount of water on floors through the use of umbrella covers and mats. Make sure the mats you choose don't become soaked through and contribute to the problem;
  • Direct employees and visitors away from wet or slippery areas through the use of cones and ropes;
  • Use signage to warn about slippery or uneven floors (and, if floors are uneven, grind them down or replace sections to make transitions easier)
  • Mop up any spills immediately.
  • Stick to a cleaning schedule and follow manufacturers' directions. Twice as much cleaning solution does not mean cleaner floors, said Vidal. Chances are, he warned, too much cleanser will create product buildup and residue on the floors, another contributor to slips and falls.

He noted that "good [safe] design often will be opposed because it costs too much or because of aesthetic reasons," but safety managers should not let that stop them from insisting on changes.

"This is one area regardless of the type of facility you have where you can get a lot of gain" by managing the challenge," said Vidal. Just ask the restaurant owner who saved approximately $1.5 million by adopting a multi-faceted approach to managing slips and falls.

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