Look out below! You might be surprised at how hazardous your floor can be even if it looks shiny and clean. And dirty floors, besides being eyesores, commonly cause slips and falls.
You can dramatically reduce the risk of slip and fall incidents by taking a closer look at the condition of the floors in your facility and by revising cleaning protocols. Don’t let a floor’s shine or daily sweeping and mopping schedules create a false sense of safety. These activities might actually contribute to the problem.
Every floor has its own look and feel. From inexpensive brushed concrete to polished marble, walking surfaces range from merely functional to highly aesthetic. But they all share certain properties that you can evaluate to help guard against a slip and fall incident.
Consider texture, on a spectrum from glass to tile to sanded wood to untreated concrete. Even surfaces that feel smooth to the touch actually have microscopic hills and valleys that provide traction. The texture of a walking surface might or might not be visible. Some flooring materials, such as linoleum and laminate flooring, feature textures deliberately added to increase traction. Other surfaces are buffed, brazed, sanded, acid-etched or otherwise treated to increase traction.
Whether the hills and vales of a walking surface are microscopic or readily visible, they help determine its coefficient of friction. Measured by a tribometer, a coefficient of friction describes how easily—or uneasily—one surface moves across another. For instance, it is much easier to slide something across a glass surface than over tile, wood or brushed concrete. This is because the coefficient of friction for glass is much lower than that of the other surfaces.
The coefficient of friction for walking surfaces can change over time as the surface ages. It can also be affected by the volume of traffic over the surface and by cleaning. In fact, improper cleaning can quickly make a floor unsafe.
Improper cleaning leaves dirt and soap residues on floors. This causes polymerization that turns otherwise safe floors into skating rinks, especially when the floor is wet. Sunlight and certain cleaning chemicals such as bleach and ammonia can make the problem worse by hardening the dirt and soap residue and sealing it into the floor’s surface.
Back to the microscopic mountains and valleys … Dirt and soap residue from improper floor cleaning quickly fills up the valleys, making them level with the mountaintops and creating a walking surface with glass-like smoothness. This change can often go unnoticed, especially if floor cleaning and drying happens when a building is unoccupied.
One way to check for problems from polymerization is to find an area of the floor that has been covered by something such as a piece of furniture, an appliance or a piece of equipment. If you move the item and find the area cleaner or more brightly-colored than surrounding floor, this can be a sign of polymerization. Dark-colored grout, or grout lines that are darker in areas with higher traffic are another sign of polymerization. Tinted grout is available, but most buildings still use standard white grout. So if it’s gray, beige or black, it’s probably dirty.
Not only is it possible to fix problems caused by polymerization, it is also much less expensive and disruptive than ripping up and replacing floors. It begins with removing the polymerization, then changing floor-cleaning procedures to keep it from recurring.
Commercial floor cleaning companies offer many different methods for removing polymerization, and this might be a worthwhile investment. Commercial chemical suppliers can also provide the right products for those who choose to tackle the project with in-house staff and equipment. When choosing a product, it is vital to match the cleaning chemical with the type of floor, the temperature of the water and the type of cleaning methods that will be used.
After the polymerization has been removed, determine whether to re-seal the surface. If the surface will be sealed, choose polishes, varnishes, waxes or sealers that will maintain or increase the coefficient of friction. Finishes that are NFSI-certified have been tested and proven to meet nationally-recognized floor safety standards.
Next, evaluate what types of contaminants reach the floor. Is it simply dirt tracked in from outdoors, or are there oils, greases or other materials that also need to be removed? Cleaning products designed to remove dirt (particulates) often don’t work well on oily floors. Conversely, products designed to emulsify and remove oils might not pick up particulates.
Choose a cleaning chemical that is specifically designed for the types of floors that need to be cleaned and the types of contaminants present. While it is certainly easier to stock one “multi-purpose” floor cleaner, this could be source of the problem.
Read the instructions for the cleaning chemical. Does it need to be applied with a mechanical floor scrubber? Does it need to be added to hot or cold water? How long does it need to remain on the surface before the floor is rinsed with clean water? Is the product designed for daily, weekly or monthly use?
Develop floor-cleaning procedures based on the information on the cleaning product’s label and any other supplier recommendations, determining all of the following:
- How often to clean the floor
- What time of day to clean the floor
- The correct volume of cleaning chemical to use
- What temperature the water needs to be
- The tools and equipment to use to apply and remove cleaning chemicals
- The types of barriers (signs, barricades, etc.) to use to let people know that the floor is wet
- How to remove the barriers when the floor is dry
- How to prepare tools and equipment for the next use
Procedures should also address the need to change cleaning protocols due to varying weather conditions and other factors that affect cleaning, such as the need to change the water in a mop bucket when it looks dirty or cloudy, rather than at the end of the day or shift.
In addition to products used on floors, consider other cleaning products that might make floors slippery. Furniture and metal polishes, glass cleaners, odor-eliminating products and other sprays or aerosols can accumulate on floors over time, coating walking surfaces and making them less safe. Many of these types of cleaning products are available in a pre-moistened wipe form, eliminating or minimizing this hazard.
Removing polymerization and re-evaluating floor-cleaning procedures can minimize or eliminate falls caused by slippery floors. It will also help make routine cleaning easier, more effective and help your building look cleaner and more attractive for employees and guests.