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Same-level slips, trips and falls are the second leading cause of non-fatal, lost worktime injuries. Preventing these injuries will increase productivity and eliminates unnecessary workers’ compensation claims.
OSHA requires workplace floors to be kept clean and dry whenever possible [29 CFR 1910.22(a)(2)]. They do not, however, require facilities to have a written plan that addresses floor safety.
In facilities where comprehensive floor safety plans have been established, slip, trip and fall injuries have been reduced by as much as 90 percent, according to studies conducted by the National Floor Safety Institute (NFSI). Many of the best management practices (BMPs) that enhance floor safety and prevent injuries can be incorporated as good housekeeping practices.
Creating an effective floor safety plan involves more than just issuing non-slip footwear or changing the water in the mop bucket. Like other workplace safety hazards, risks need to be properly identified and evaluated. Having a plan that addresses different aspects of floor safety and training employees on how these aspects work together to prevent slip, trip and fall injuries makes the difference in preventing floor safety hazards.
Ridding your facility of floor safety hazards will not happen overnight, but there are well-defined steps to achieve that goal. Below is our top 10 list of BMPs based on a deep understanding of OSHA’s guidance, along with years of working with facilities, safety organizations and professional associations.
Evaluate walking surfaces in all areas, including sidewalks, parking lots and other outdoor areas, using a floorplan of the facility as a guide. Use a tribometer to measure the coefficient of friction on hard surfaces and determine surfaces that have low traction. Professionally-trained walkway auditors are a good resource for performing audits. NFSI maintains a list of certified walkway auditors that is searchable by zip code.
In addition to noting the conditions of each walking surface, check lighting levels and look for good housekeeping efforts that have already been established or may be needed. Talk with employees in each area to better evaluate whether the conditions that are being observed during the audit are typical for the area.
Taking the time to audit floors and walking surfaces in and around the facility will help identify risks. It also provides a baseline for comparison during future floor audits.
According to NFSI, more than half of all slips, trips and falls are caused by problems with the walking surface. Common slipping problems include ice, wet floors and both wet and dry contaminants on floors. Common tripping problems include uneven walking surfaces, wrinkled or loose carpeting, cables crossing walkways and boxes or other items that protrude into walkways.
Methodologies such as Lean Manufacturing and Six Sigma both stress the importance of decluttering and standardizing work areas, as well as keeping them clean and orderly. The strategies focus primarily on how these efforts maximize production, but they are also great tools for enhancing the safety of walking surfaces.
Setting aside time to rid workspaces of objects that are no longer used, straighten up storage areas, organize tools and clean and repair floors can be difficult. But, it will help improve safety and working conditions. It can also improve morale and increase productivity. Take pictures of each area and post them as a reminder of how each area should look.
The findings from walkway audits and deep cleanings should identify any surfaces that are uneven, chipped and cracked or that have low traction. Often, these problems are overlooked because they’ve been around for a while and everyone just ignores them.
Repairing surface imperfections — such as uneven or cracked concrete, loose floor tiles and buckled carpeting — removes hazards and can often easily be performed by onsite maintenance staff or contracted to service organizations. In addition to aesthetic and safety improvements, taking the time to repair surface imperfections can also help prevent more costly repairs later or the need to replace the entire surface.
If problem areas can’t be repaired or addressed immediately, be sure to clearly identify the hazards with signs, warning cones or barricades. These temporary tools create awareness and can prevent incidents.
Most floors with low traction can be improved in a variety of ways including different cleaning methods, refinishing or recoating. Manufacturers of floor cleaning chemicals and cleaning contractors are great resources that can help determine the best methods for restoring traction on a variety of walking surfaces.
Repairing walking surfaces and improving the coefficient of friction solve existing problems. Neither of those solutions will be truly effective, however, if you’re not properly cleaning your floors. In order to make those improvements lasting, the right cleaning and maintenance processes need to be in place to keep floors and walking surfaces in good condition.
Because improper cleaning can contribute to slip, trip and fall injuries, it is important to establish cleaning and maintenance procedures that will keep floors at their best. Procedures should include:
Using the wrong floor cleaning chemicals, or using the wrong amount of cleaner, could leave residue behind on the floor that reduces the coefficient of friction and prematurely wears down the surface.
Schedule walkthroughs and keep checklists of the plans, tools and equipment each area needs during a certain situation or time of year. For example, if your facility is in an area that gets heavy snowfall each winter, make sure you’re stocked with enough shovels and snow melt and have a maintenance plan for plowing the parking lot before employees and visitors arrive.
Nearly 25 percent of slip and fall incidents are caused by workers wearing improper footwear. When it comes to slip-resistant footwear, there are a lot of choices.
It is important to evaluate what is making the floor slippery before choosing footwear for employees. Is it water? Grease from cooking food items? Cutting oil? Sawdust?
The tread patterns on non-slip shoes as well as the polymers used to create the soles are designed to work in specific conditions. Wearing a shoe that is designed for restaurant workers in a production area that has cutting oil on the floor can quickly degrade the soles of the shoes and make them useless. Shoe manufacturers should be able to assist with matching footwear to your specific application.
Proper footwear extends beyond production areas. Establishing footwear guidelines for office workers and others who may routinely or occasionally enter slippery areas – including visitors – is equally important. Guidelines often include limiting the height of heels, requiring soles to be made of rubber or a polymer and mandating non-slip shoes or shoe covers in various areas of the facility.
Now that you know the steps to preventing slips, trips and falls at your facility, start taking control of your floor safety by replacing rental rugs with safer adhesive-backed mats.
Transition areas are places where slips, trips and falls are more likely because the walking surface changes. The bigger the difference between the two surfaces, the more likely it will contribute to a slip, trip or fall. Minimizing differences in coefficient of friction can help prevent injuries. For example, you might enter a building with a polished marble floor from a concrete sidewalk or move from a tiled hallway to a carpeted office.
Mats and carpet runners are often used in transition areas to remove water, snow and dirt from people’s feet as they move from one area to another. Common problems with these mats are that they are easily oversaturated during bad weather events, they shift, their corners get flipped and they buckle. These problems are usually even more pronounced if carts or other wheeled items regularly travel over the mats.
An adhesive-backed absorbent mat can be used in place of traditional entrance and transition zone mats to improve safety and eliminate slip, trip and fall hazards.
Condensation and routine machinery leaks are sometimes just part of normal operation. It’s not uncommon to hear a production manager say, “If it’s not leaking, it’s not running.” Capturing liquids before they get into aisles and walkways helps prevent slip and fall injuries.
Absorbent socks can be placed around the bases of machinery to catch leaks and drips before they hit the floor. For areas with overspray or leaks that can’t be captured by socks, absorbent mats soak in fluids and increase traction.
Creating containment berms around problem areas is another option that can keep fluids in check and allow them to be collected for reuse or bulk recycling.
Spills usually happen at the most inconvenient times. Even a few ounces from overfilling a container can be enough to cause a worker to slip and fall. Most facilities are prepared to respond to large spills, but being ready for incidental spills is just as important.
Stock spill response supplies, such as spill kits and drain covers, throughout the facility in any area where liquids are used, stored, transferred or collected. Making cleanup supplies readily available in the areas where they are most likely to be used and training employees on how to clean up spills encourages fast cleanup and helps to keep floors clean and dry.
In this age of mobile electronic devices and multitasking, people rarely pay full attention to walking. This can make them prone to missing spills, cracks or other walking surface hazards.
Signs, cones and barricades can help make people more aware of problems and less likely to slip, trip or fall. But, these items should only be used on a temporary or as-needed basis. Signs, cones and barricades that are left in place when there is no longer a hazard are counterproductive as workers might begin to ignore them.
Low lighting can also hide surface imperfections, spills and other floor safety hazards. Installing proper lighting both indoors and outdoors will improve walking surface safety and offers security benefits.
Correcting floor safety problems, improving cleaning methods, implementing footwear policies and making any other changes will only provide short term results if no one is aware of why the improvements were made.
Training employees to recognize floor safety hazards and how to follow any new procedures that have been established will help to promote long-term changes that keep walking surfaces cleaner and drier. As employees are taught how each step helps improve safety and eliminates slip, trip and fall injuries, they can develop a greater understanding of their role in new processes and how their actions affect these efforts.
Each step in this process can be documented as part of a comprehensive floor safety plan that identifies risks and establishes procedures and processes that mitigate those risks. Facilities with comprehensive floor safety plans are able to reduce costly slip, trip and fall injures and the costs associated with them.