Slips and trips are, according to the HSE, the cause of one third of all reported accidents, and some 40% of people suffering them are members of the public, the remainder being workers in the work place. The majority of such slips happen when the floor is contaminated in some way – often with water, oil, grease, and surprisingly, talcum powder. However, the answers to a lot of the problems can be fairly simple to implement.
There can be a number of contributory factors to slips and trips, one of which is the type of floor surface itself. Different floor surfaces have different levels of slip resistance. Another, of course, is contamination: contaminants such as those mentioned above will directly affect the surface of the floor and increase the potential for slips.
Environmental factors can also have an effect. Rain, snow, sleet, mud, ice, fallen leaves, and other debris can have an effect on the floor surface even though it is inside a building, because they can all be trodden in by people entering the building. You might also have a smooth tiled driveway, of course, in which case it could be just as easy to slip outside a building.
Perhaps surprisingly, cleaning the floor can have an impact too. Even if a floor is perfectly mopped and cleaned, it will be wet, and therefore more slippery than when dry. However, poor cleaning can leave residues of cleaning agent on the floor, or the floor surface may still harbour dirt if cleaning is not done well. If the floor has suffered spills of grease or oil – as in a machine shop, for instance – and they are not fully cleaned up, then that can be dangerous too. Equally, spills that are left unattended are a danger.
Another danger is the amount of usage that a floor gets. Floors that get heavy foot traffic can have the surface worn down so that it becomes more smooth and slippery. Having said that, heavy foot traffic can actually have a positive effect if the floor surface contains gritty particles which can become exposed. Another kind of traffic is that of fork lift trucks in a warehouse, where rubber wears off the tyres and can cause the surface to be slippery.
A further problem can be the type of shoes being worn. Some shoes have soles and heels that can contribute to slips. Yet another factor is the simple lack of attention from someone walking across the floor.
Some factors regarding floor cleaning should be noted, not the least of which is that cleaning the floor perfectly will still leave it wet and just putting up a warning sign will not necessarily prevent slipping. The answer is to keep people away from the area until it is dry. Mopping on its' own will not be sufficient on a rough floor which will need mechanical or manual brushing. A mop that is dirty or greasy will only serve to spread grease around. Greasy or oily floors should be cleaned using a suitable detergent.
The slipperiness of a floor can be measured using what is called the pendulum test and this is recommended by the HSE. Pendulum slip testing uses a small portable piece of equipment which can test any floor surface and recreates the impression of a heel slipping on the surface. The magic figure for slip resistance is 36 and if the floor measures above that it is regarded as safe. Anything below 36 means that the floor requires some attention. A floor is normally tested in several different places, since areas may have different levels of traffic, or different levels of susceptibility to spills and so on.
The pendulum test can be supplemented by a surface microroughness test. This measures the roughness of a floor surface by measuring the peaks and valleys in the floor surface to provide an Rz value. The higher the Rz value, the rougher the floor surface, and therefore the less likelihood of slips and falls there will be.
People rarely slip on clean, dry floor surfaces, so cleaning should be a priority. So should mopping up any spills as soon as they are noticed. Matting close to the entrance door will prevent dirt and damp being tracked in from outside. Floor surfaces can also be treated with a variety of different products in order to increase their slip resistance.