Ending the confusion over floor safety

By Robert Kravitz

The topic of slip-and-fall accidents should be pretty straightforward: Someone slips on a floor, a stair or a loose cord; they fall and hopefully are not injured. However, when we look closely at slip-and-fall accidents, we find several open ends and a high degree of ambiguity and confusion.

Who’s to blame if someone slips and falls in a hotel property? There are no universal rules, and typically everyone blames everyone else. Questions that are often asked include the following:

  • Is the accident the result of the walker not paying attention to where they are going?
  • Is the property owner/manager to blame for not providing a safe walkway?
  • Is the hired cleaning contractor or housekeeper to blame for not performing their jobs properly?
  • Was the wrong flooring selected for the traffic volume the floor receives? Were the wrong cleaning solutions and finishes (gloss, wax) used?
  • Or, is it a combination of all of these.

These are just some of the issues that arise when a slip-and-fall accident occurs. And as you might suspect, they are among the reasons why slip-and-fall accidents can be so costly if litigation follows, which all too frequently it does.

“But those aren’t the only slip-and-fall situations where ambiguity and confusion abound,” said Michael Wilson, SVP, AFFLINK, a national network of distributors in the cleaning, packaging and hospitality industries. “To ensure that a hotel floor is safe for guests and staff to walk on, it must have slip resistance. Measuring slip resistance is another gray area.”

Before going further, we’d like to share one more point, but this one is not ambiguous, nor is there confusion about it. In the U.S., each year approximately eight million people end up in emergency rooms due to slip-and-fall accidents. These can include falls from stairs, a loose cord over a walkway or even a ladder.

Additionally, among these approximately eight million people who end up in emergency rooms are one million who slipped and fell as a result of the condition of the floor. “Either the wrong floor was installed, one that does not provide enough traction to ensure walker safety,” said Wilson, “or the wrong cleaning solutions and finishes that shine and protect the floor were applied.”

What is slip resistance?
Section 302.1 of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires, among other things, that floors in a commercial setting be “stable, firm and slip-resistant.” However, what constitutes a slip-resistant floor is not precisely defined here.

Two other organizations, the International Building Code (IBC) and the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), also mandate that walkways be “slip-resistant.” But again, exactly what a slip-resistant walkway is, is not clear.

Enter tribometers
Invented in the 18th century, tribometers measure friction and were initially used in manufacturing to measure the amount of friction developing on cylinders and pistons in electric- and gas-powered engines. Eventually, systems were developed that could measure what is called the coefficient of friction (COF) of floors.

According to Wilson, different manufacturers make these systems, and not all work the same. They may use different technologies to determine how slip-resistant a floor is.

Nevertheless, Wilson adds that they all are designed to provide one of three readings or values. These are:

High Traction. This value, typically displayed as 0.45 or higher, means the floor or the cleaning solutions and finishes applied to the floor are ensuring it is safe to walk on under normal conditions. An unusual condition, such as a spill on the floor, could negatively impact the floor’s traction. However, this is the exception.

Moderate Traction. If the COF is 0.3 to 0.44, the traction on the floor should suffice if it is a moderately trafficked walkway. In the case of a heavily trafficked walkway or a lobby, however, traction-enhancing cleaning solutions and finishes should be considered.

Low Traction. Any reading lower than 0.3 requires what Russel J. Kendzior, head of the National Floor Safety Institute, calls, “professional intervention. Consider replacing the flooring or treating [it] with traction-enhancing products.”

Reenter confusion
With a consensus on definitions, at least some of the confusion about slip-and-fall accidents has been laid to rest, and now we know how to test floors to determine if they are slip-resistant and safe for guests and staff to walk on. However, Wilson suggests that new issues can arise that require due diligence on the part of hotel operators and managers.

“For instance, not all tribometers are made equally,” he said. “Some may provide different or even false readings or may not provide correct values on certain types of floors.

“Also, cleaning contractors and housekeepers need to know that just because a floor finish is labeled ‘slip-resistant’ does not mean it is slip-resistant on all floors, including the floors installed in your property.”
Because of this, and because more than one million emergency visits result from people slipping and falling on floors, Wilson advises hotel operators and managers to avoid what he calls “trial-and-error” purchasing of floor monitoring or floorcare products. “Instead, it is best to bring in an expert, and typically these are distributors in the professional cleaning industry.”

If the distributors are members of ISSA, the worldwide cleaning association, or members of a national network of distributors, they are typically offered classes and seminars on floorcare and taught which products work best on what types of floors. “Additionally, many [cleaning] chemical manufacturers work directly with distributors, teaching them how to use their floorcare products, where they work best, and where they will ensure the greatest safety,” said Wilson.

All hotel operators and managers want to ensure their properties are safe, and this applies to floor safety as well. With one million floor-related slip-and-fall accidents every year, this is an issue that cannot be ignored.

Robert Kravitz is a frequent writer for the professional cleaning, building and hospitality industries.

This is a contributed piece to Hotel Business, authored by an industry professional. The thoughts expressed are the perspective of the bylined individual.