Three Common Flooring Follies That Cause Slips
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.
If you are responsible for a surface which gets wet in end use, without knowing that the surface provides safe grip levels in the wet, you’re simply waiting for the unfortunate and expensive accident to occur. Tightening up contamination controls and/or commissioning an independent slip risk assessment will be far cheaper and less time consuming than dealing with just one slip accident claim.
A DIRTY FLOOR
We are not talking about a spill on the surface here, but the ingrained dirt which has built up in the surface over a period of time.
Floor surfaces are never completely smooth, all offer, to varying degrees, a surface profile which can collect dirt over time. Surfaces which are designed to offer good wet slip resistance will tend to offer a deeper profile and accumulate dirt faster. The rough surface which previously gave good slip resistance will become smoothed as the dirt builds up, reducing slip resistance. This can result in uncontrolled contamination on a surface in end use being ignored as a hazard, simply because the floor is thought to offer safe wet grip levels. Slips are sure to occur in such a situation.
No prizes are awarded for guessing how the problem of a dirty floor is overcome, it is of course, very simply, effective cleaning, yet ineffective cleaning remains a significant contributory cause of slips. A periodic effective deep clean will ensure the profile is returned to its original slip resistant state, but care must be taken to ensure the next deep clean is scheduled before slip resistance has dropped to unsafe levels. A better solution would be improvement of the existing daily regime, to ensure the surface is maintained in a safe, hygienic and aesthetically appealing condition in the long term. Failing to allocate sufficient resources to cleaning staff, equipment and chemicals may generate a small immediate financial gain, but often leads to a significant loss if/when a slip occurs. Periodic monitoring of the slip resistance of the surface is of the utmost importance if water contamination can be expected in end use. With a clean safe surface and a recent independent expert slip test certificate supporting it, you will be well placed to effectively defend any slip claims, even if they occur in the wet.
THE ‘WRONG’ FLOOR
Flooring specification will always involve influences from the different parties, usually client, main contractor, flooring contractor and architect, and all have a responsibility to ensure a safe surface. Despite this we would estimate around half of the floors we assess that do present a slip hazard have been incorrectly specified and should never have been installed.
The ‘wrong’ floor is, in the sense of slip resistance, one which is laid in an area where water contamination cannot or will not be reliably controlled in end use, and yet fails to provide safe grip levels in the wet. Typically this will be in order to provide a surface which is more aesthetically pleasing, easier to clean, or simply cheaper, however, even the most well intentioned specifier sometimes falls prey to the convoluted web of slip test standards and ratings.
Whilst a high gloss natural stone floor may be perfect in a museum where contamination can easily be controlled, the same floor immediately adjacent to the busy external entrance to a shopping centre is questionable at the very least. If the risk assessment for such a situation suggests that the floor poses a hazard when wet and places unreliable or impractical controls in place to ensure a dry surface, responsible parties can expect to found liable for a slip occurring in the wet. Entrance matting and spot cleaning/drying is all well and good, but the water dripping from clothes/bags/umbrellas etc is impossible to reliably control. A rougher, better performing surface should have been installed for the affected area.
Avoiding installation of the ‘wrong’ floor, in terms of slip resistance at least, is simple when the right information is available. Consideration must be given to the end use condition and whether the surface can be kept dry reliably. When end use conditions are known, ensure that the potential product achieves a BS 7976 Pendulum Test Value (PTV) of 36 or greater in those conditions. You may not be surprised to know that we are able to provide an independent test, quickly and inexpensively, for flooring samples, that is regularly used by both architects and flooring suppliers.
Rectifying the problem of a ‘wrong’ floor in situ rarely requires outright replacement. A wide range of effective anti-slip products are available and we will be happy to impartially recommend reputable companies offering products that we ourselves have tested. With any anti-slip treatment it is essential to ensure the finished treated surface meets the required standard (we can and do frequently help with this) and that the proper cleaning methods are in place to prolong the performance of the new floor finish.
Now you’re aware of these flooring follies I would ask you to consider whether you might be responsible for any surfaces which might be described by the above. It is far better for all involved that slip risks are tackled prior to an accident occurring. I provide lawyers with expert reports on slip and fall cases on a near daily basis and in almost all instances an effective risk assessment would have highlighted the risk. Taking action before the slip would have saved not only the legal fees, insurance costs, time, paperwork and emails, but prevented quite significant injury. Future fraudulent slip claims can also be effectively defended if you act now.