Studies from the insurance industry confirm: both workers' compensation and general liability slip-and-fall claims and costs are on the rise. This indicates the basic “washing, safety cone, and employee shoe” floor safety programs that most restaurants follow are inadequate. Still, most don’t implement changes that could reverse the trend. While there is no “silver bullet” program to entirely eliminate slips and falls, you can take additional steps to greatly decrease the potential for them to occur. These steps are essential if you want to succeed in increasing safety and reducing the negative impact on your profits.
Cleaning, Training, and Cleaning Products
While multiple daily washings are an obvious necessity, deck-brushing is the secret weapon for cleaning floors. Train your employees that, in addition to mopping the floor, vigorous agitation is needed to loosen grease, oils, and dirt. Rinsing afterwards with clean, hot water aids in their removal. Employees have to understand: these two steps are an essential part of the degreasing process and cannot be done haphazardly. They prevent airborne and tracked-in grease, oil, and dirt from accumulating and solidifying into a slippery wax-like compound referred to as “polymerization.” Polymerized floors don’t allow the shoe sole to contact the actual floor, which significantly reduces the slip resistance on both dry and wet surfaces. View your dry floors looking towards the sunlight. If you see a waxy appearance or any footprints, the floor is already heavily polymerized. Kitchens should be deck-brushed daily—customer areas, entries, and washrooms at least several times per week. Mop heads should be replaced frequently, so they’re not contaminated with built-up grease, and deck brushes replaced before their bristles wear down and cannot agitate properly.
Employees' Safety Shoes
The soles need to be cleaned frequently to avoid grease accumulating between the treads. Replace shoes before the patterned treads wear down and reduce the slip resistance.
Mop Up Spills Immediately and Use Safety Cones
These are valid recommendations, of course, and should be implemented to reduce exposure to negligence claims. However, most customer slips and falls result from a small, hard-to-notice, localized spill causing a significant difference of traction between the dry and wet area. These can be difficult to spot, let alone immediately mop up and mark with safety cones, so providing higher wet traction is critical.
Install High-Traction Tile
A key question most restaurant owners rarely ask themselves is: Do our wet floors actually provide adequate slip resistance after washing, deck-brushing and rinsing? Although architects and restaurant owners try to choose non-slip tiles, they may find after installation that the floor is “slippery when wet.” Over time, even tiles with very high initial slip resistance wear down due to pedestrian traffic and become slippery. Owners and managers are conditioned by tile suppliers and cleaning product manufacturers to assume that slippery wet floors are entirely due to inadequate cleaning procedures or products. But sometimes, no matter how well you clean them, some wet floors continue to be slippery. So—other than replacing them—what are your options?
Increase Traction When It's Inadequate
Although both wet and dry floors with traction below 0.5 are considered “slip-prone,” most slips and falls occur on wet surfaces. Liberty Mutual Research Institute for Safety published their “Research to Reality” study which concluded that “for each 0.1 increase in the mean coefficient of friction (traction), the rate of slipping decreased by 21 percent.” The study also states that “there are significant reductions in risk for each 0.1 coefficient of friction increase at values well above 0.5, suggesting that efforts to further improve friction can have an impact.” In other words, increasing traction will result in fewer slips and falls. This study indicates that, if after washing, vigorously deck-brushing, and thoroughly rinsing, you still find the wet floor to be slippery while walking normally and wearing regular shoes that customers would wear (leather or rubber soles but not safety shoes), you would be wise to be proactive and increase the traction by applying a no-slip treatment. To professionally establish if your floors have acceptable wet traction, I suggest arranging for a risk management consultant from your insurance company or broker to do on-site testing. Do not rely on testing offered by a supplier trying to sell you a product to solve the problem.
There are three types of non-slip treatments generally used to increase wet traction:
Translucent, sharp, micron-sized particles, bonded individually to the surface, will not break off and do not produce a “sandpaper effect” or patterns of wear. Recommended by chemical suppliers due to compatibility with their floor cleaning products as well as tile manufacturers, the particles don't damage the natural surface finish.
Acid etching eats into the tile surface and dissolves the soft portions of all surface types to create additional roughness. However, this leaves deeper pores which become filled with dirt, grease, and oils, making the surface actually much harder to keep clean. The warranty for acid etching products may require you to use a single brand of floor cleaning products. Many of the companies that produce acid etching treatments provide obscure descriptions to avoid alerting customers that they do in fact acid etch. This process is generally not recommended by manufacturers of cleaning products because it reduces the effectiveness of their floor cleaners. Tile manufacturers also frown on the practice, since the permanent damage to the surface negates their warranty.
Paint, epoxy, and acrylic-based products containing gritty particles create a surface that feels like sandpaper, but is difficult to clean. The particles can break away from the base, reducing the traction, and they can leave unattractive wear patterns. Removing them is difficult, expensive, and can ruin the underlying surface.
Lastly, are you aware that uninsured costs exceed those covered by your insurance policy? Increased premiums resulting from each incident and claim won't be the only negative impact on your earnings. For more details, see http://www.slipandfallsolutions.com/FAQs.html.
A successful floor safety program is the sum of its parts—floors that are properly cleaned combined with floors that genuinely provide acceptable wet traction when properly cleaned. If your floors are at all slippery when wet, investigate which of these recommendations are not being satisfactorily fulfilled and remedy the situation before your profits are reduced by a costly slip-and-fall claim.
The opinions of contributors are their own. Publication of their writing does not imply endorsement by FSR magazine or Journalistic Inc.