Slips - A Little Knowledge Can Go A Long Way
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(slip testing) 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.
I regularly deal with situations where the basics have been misunderstood, mis-communicated, or flat out ignored. They fall broadly into the following stages of a floor product’s lifetime; installation, end use, and a slip accident claim.
The design, specification and installation stage is where it is easiest, and cheapest to provide a surface which will offer safe grip levels for an extended period. Confusion with slip test standards, classification of results and what constitutes a ‘wet surface’ in end use, collide with pressures to have the best aesthetic (read most highly polished) finish. An incorrectly specified surface at this stage typically leads to a later slip accident, compensation pay out, and expensive remedial works (which alter the aesthetic appearance that nobody was prepared to compromise on at design stage). Having accepted the sign off of the building, it is usually the owner/manager left in the firing line when the inevitable and unnecessary injury occurs. A recent risk assessment for a building manager revealed the specification produced by the builders called for an inappropriate slip test, with only the dry condition specified (adjacent to a busy external doorway) and without stating a particular value which must be achieved. The specification was essentially meaningless, leaving the building manager with little recourse. Knowing which standard, result, condition and slider type to look for at the design/specification stage can make the difference between a hassle free floor and slips, claims, disputes and additional costs. (Hint: The BS 7976 test, with a result of 36PTV or greater, in the conditions of end use be they wet or dry, with slider #96 for shod and #55 for barefoot traffic)
Floors will fall into 3 broad categories in end use, those which offer safe grip levels from the factory, those which offer safe grip levels due to remedial works and those which have never offered safe grip levels. Slip resistance is not fixed and varies over time, often changing slip risk classifications. It is perhaps the most common misconception about slip resistance is that it is an absolute value, fixed for the period of the lifetime of the respective floor product. In extreme circumstances wear can reduce the slip resistance of a floor; however drops in performance are most often due to a build up of contamination within the floor profile, caused by infrequent or imperfect cleaning. This drop off from imperfect cleaning can occur within a matter of months, weeks or even days. Understanding that the requirement to provide a safe floor surface is a statutory one (demanding that risks be assessed) should prevent those floors which have never offered safe grip from continuing in their current state. Understanding that slip resistance changes over time based on a number of factors, will help to ensure that the well specified and well improved floor surfaces don’t become slip hazards that have fallen through a gap in risk management.
Even at the sharp end, slip accident investigation, where the correct information really matters, things often go awry when the basics are not understood. The persistent myth that ‘if a floor is wet it must be slippery’ is simply untrue, though I have even come across an ‘expert’ in a compensation case putting it forward as fact. It is true however that it is highly unlikely a slip will occur on a clean and dry surface. That is not to say that a fall cannot occur on a dry surface, but you will note that I said fall, rather than slip. People can fall over in the most creative ways, and it is impossible to prevent all falls. The requirement is to provide a safe and suitable surface, and in doing so responsible parties will effectively defend against the unfortunate ‘freak’ slip or more common mis-step, stumble, trip and fall claim. Having documented periodic slip test values for your floors is the best starting point in a slip claim scenario, something more and more clients are realising. Without the benefit of that foresight, knowing the basics, that if the floor was clean and dry it was probably safe, and even if it wasn’t clean or dry it wasn’t necessarily unsafe, can still prevent a costly initial error in dealing with the claim.
Knowing to demand the appropriate initial test results, that slip resistance varies over time and that whilst dry floors are almost certainly safe, wet floors are not necessarily slippery are but a few basic points which I hope may help you to reduce slips, claims and costs.