By Robert Kravitz

Cleaning professionals, both in-house and contractors, as well as carpet cleaning technicians venturing into hard surface floor care, are likely aware of the big slip and fall accident problem in the U.S. It is estimated there are about three million emergency room visits each year due to slip and fall accidents. This costs about $31 billion in direct medical expenses and results in approximately 20,000 deaths annually in this country.

While some slip and fall accidents are unavoidable, the vast majority can be prevented, and this is where cleaning professionals — both in professional cleaning and carpet care — come in. The ways we clean and maintain floors, along with the floorcare cleaning solutions and finishes we apply to floors, all can have a significant impact on reducing and preventing slip and fall accidents.

To help us better understand slip and fall accidents and how to prevent them, we asked Mike Watt, a floor care expert at Avmor, manufacturer of floor and carpet cleaning products, to answer the following questions.

What’s actually happening when someone slips and falls?

As we walk, our bones and muscles in our legs expand and contract. We are transferring weight from one foot to the other. This causes our bodies to sway and moves our arms forward and backward.

We also have a center of gravity (COG). This helps us stay surefooted as we move forward. But as we sway, there is a brief second or two when we are off balance and vulnerable to a fall. It could be caused by different factors, but the result is usually the same: We lose our balance, and, if we cannot catch ourselves, we fall.

Are all slip and fall accidents alike?

No, there are four types of slip and fall accidents. These are:

  1. Trip and fall. This type of fall occurs when we encounter a foreign object in our path such as a power cord or a step.
  2. Stump and fall. This happens when we encounter an unseen obstruction on the walking surface.
  3. Step and fall. Falls of this type occur when the surface we are walking on unexpectedly changes height, such as in the case of a dip in the surface.
  4. Slip and fall. This type of fall happens when our balance is disrupted; we lose secure footing with the floor and fall.

Can floors be slip and fall prone?

Yes. A bank in Northern California was experiencing slip and fall accidents on a far too regular a basis. It had a large, hard surface floor lobby that was cleaned and maintained every night. Cleaning workers also were using floor cleaning solutions and finishes designed to help prevent slip and fall accidents. However, the accidents continued.

After a more serious incident, an investigator was called in to examine the entire floor. While it could barely be seen by the naked eye, he found the bank’s lobby floor was wavy. It was these slight inclines up and declines down that caused walkers to lose their balance and fall.

Can you measure how slippery a floor is?

Most definitely. For those cleaning professionals that care for large floor surfaces, purchasing a slip meter is highly recommended. These machines range in price from about $500 to several thousand dollars. Essentially, what they do is measure the amount of “drag,” or friction, on the floor as the machine is moved over the floor. The meter will produce a reading of the floors coefficient of friction (COF). A COF of 0.60 is recommended.

Where does cleaning get involved?

Keeping the floor clean is important for many reasons, but it will not necessarily prevent a slip and fall accident. When it comes to the products used on the floor — cleaners, glosses, finishes, etc. — there are two things cleaning and carpet cleaning professionals must remember:

Select products engineered to help prevent slip and fall accidents. An astute distributor can help with this, but the product label also should provide necessary information. While the wording may differ, a floor cleaning solution designed to prevent slip and fall accidents, for instance, might have the following noted on its product label: “Field use has produced an average increase in slip resistance of XXXX SCOF [Static Coefficient of Friction] per application.” This indicates the product has been evaluated, verifying it can help prevent slip and fall accidents.

Select products from the same manufacturer. Most cleaning solution manufacturers make a broad range of products that work well when used with products from different brands. However, this is not necessarily true when it comes to floor care.

They typically engineer their floor care products to have synergy: Essentially this means, each floorcare product in a specific line is designed to complement others in that product line. This is especially true when it comes to slip resistance. Look at the different products as links on a chain. Each product is designed to work with the other to promote safety.

Robert Kravitz is a frequent writer for the professional cleaning industry.

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