Historically it has been the case that too few of those deciding on flooring products considered slip resistance. Slippery when wet floors were being specified for areas where it was unreasonable to effectively prevent water contamination, leaving building managers with a headache in terms of risk management.
More recently, and perhaps thanks to the HSE’s efforts in targeting flooring specifiers, we have seen a significant and very welcome increase in those specifying floors with the appropriate BS 7976 ‘PTV’ of 36 or greater in the conditions of end use. Unfortunately, it also seems many still don’t understand slip risk and to ‘play it safe’ they are instead causing significant expense in terms of money, time and effort, and are making it more likely a slip will occur.
For the avoidance of doubt, floor surfaces must achieve a PTV of 36 or greater (when tested to BS 7976) in the conditions of end use. If end use sees shod pedestrians this means the shod slider, #96/4S must be used. If end use sees a wet floor this means values must be of 36PTV or greater in wet conditions.
Sometimes it seems this message has not been understood or interpreted correctly, often the message has been confused by those hawking their anti-slip products or services, claiming all surfaces must be 36PTV or greater, everywhere. Some organisations deem to hold themselves to a higher safety standard, and so add an arbitrary figure to the required 36PTV, often specifying 40PTV, 55PTV, or even higher.
“What is the problem if my specified product exceeds requirements?”, some may question. The answer is a combination of factors.
Easiest to explain is the unnecessary expense, especially if products are laid and then processed or treated to improve wet slip resistance.
More convoluted, but more important, is the safety factor. Once a surface provides sufficient grip, any additional grip has negligible impact on the risk of that person slipping. Someone is similarly unlikely to slip on a 36PTV and 70PTV surface. However, the slip resistance of flooring changes over time with wear and dirt deposits. Higher wet PTV’s tend to occur on rougher surfaces, and rougher surfaces have a greater propensity to both wear and collect dirt, and so are more likely to decline at a higher rate, leading to a reduced PTV (and potentially slippery floor) faster. At the same time, the floor, having been specified as (unnecessarily) anti-slip will be considered safe in all conditions, leading to a relax in contamination controls. A slippery surface, assumed to be safe, in an environment where controls are not effective, is almost certain to result in one, if not many, slip accidents and one, if not many, subsequent successful compensation claims.
Over specifying slip resistance is then both more expensive, more time consuming and less safe, but how much of a problem is it? How often does it really happen? Well it is seemingly extremely common if our sample of the market is anything to go by. All the following occurred in the last month;
In conclusion, whilst initial PTV’s are of crucial importance in floor safety, long term compliance simply cannot be bought with higher initial numbers. Seeking higher initial numbers is unnecessarily expensive and can increase the risk of a slip.
We've all seen the small yellow signs denoting a surface that is slippery when wet. I suspect a few may have gone on to wonder how exposing staff, visitors and customers to a known hazard with simply a warning to be careful has become so widely accepted and in some cases, even permanent. Some signs even advertise the fact the surface is dangerously slippery, which would be laughable were it not so serious. I can't imagine exposed electrical wires 'protected' by similar means could ever become acceptable, yet the sign serves the same purpose, advertising the fact that a known hazard exists because it has not been effectively managed, and asking those at risk to do their best to avoid injury.
Those displaying the offending signs will sometimes claim that the signs themselves negate slip risk, that slippery wet floors cannot be avoided, or the blame will be directed to the staff responsible for keeping the area dry. Whilst those responsible for cleaning may occasionally be at fault, often the real problem has arisen simply because a risk assessment specifically aimed at slips has never even been considered, or has been undertaken in the briefest manner as part of a risk assessment of far wider scope.
With the wide range of environments that I visit it is perhaps surprising that there are actually a few very common mistakes that come up again and again. This week was no different and I saw all of the following;
A WET FLOOR
Is it the case that almost all wet floors are slippery? No. Is it the case that almost all slips occur on wet floors? Yes!
A wet floor will pose a hazard when the floor surface has not been design to provide safe grip levels in the wet, or the performance has degraded over time. Almost every slip accident we have investigated has arisen out of the combination of a floor surface which performs poorly in the wet, and a gap in the risk management that permitted the floor to become wet in end use. A floor can become sufficiently wet to present a slip hazard through numerous routes, however water tracked in from external surfaces, direct rainfall, showers/pools, spilled drinks, cleaning and work processes are among the most common.
Cleaning was a significant factor in assessments this week, so why is cleaning important for slip resistance?
It isn’t controversial to suggest that understanding the basics in a particular field can save you time, money and effort in the longer term. Slip resistance remains a field that is stubbornly misunderstood however, with suppliers, managers, end users and insurers all suffering unnecessarily. I am regularly frustrated by Client's making seemingly obvious mistakes, leaving them with big problems, all because they don't (and couldn't reasonably be expected to) share my knowledge in the field, and this week has been no exception.
Of course what is a basic understanding to an expert focused on a single narrow field may be interpreted differently by those who have a significantly wider field of responsibilities all vying for their time and attention. The fact remains that reducing slips is likely to pay dividends in future, with less time, money and effort spent on accident reports, compensation claims, court appearances and remedial works. With slip accidents being among the most prevalent, this particular field is worth the consideration of any and all whose underlying responsibility is to prevent injuries and loss.
“Slip resistance is a fixed value, if I lay a 43PTV tile, or improve an existing floor to 43PTV, it will still be 43PTV in a year...”
This was the line of thought held by a Client I visited this week, and it is by no means uncommon. If slip resistance really were a constant I would be out of a job. Luckily for me, and sadly for those responsible, flooring products will inevitably change over time. If you consider a car tyre as an analogy, it may be rated for very good grip from the factory, however it will perform differently depending on whether it is installed properly, whether it is wet or dry, whether it is clean or dirty, the type of road (shoe sole) surface and how worn the profile is. It is only necessary for the tyre/floor to provide less than adequate grip in one condition/situation and an accident or near miss will occur.