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ANSI Safety Standards Reduce Slip and Fall Accidents

According to studies conducted by CNA Insurance, slip and fall accidents account for 61% of all claims and 53% of total claim costs for businesses with retail or public-facing areas.  How can business owners or custodial operations managers know the condition of their floors and prevent slip and fall accidents?

It’s easy!  You can use the formal safety standards governing floor safety published by the American National Standards Institute.

The American National Standards Institute (ANSI), in conjunction with the National Floor Safety Institute (NFSI), have published comprehensive walkway testing standards to help improve floor safety and reduce the risk of slips and falls. These testing standards provide direction on how to measure the wet slip resistance of flooring in the field, and these results can be accurately compared against nationally-recognized safety standards.

The 2009 ANSI/NFSI B101.1 wet static coefficient of friction test method, and the 2012 ANSI/NFSI B101.3 wet dynamic coefficient of friction test method, prescribe national standards that precisely define traction levels. Documentation and compliance of these standards can be used by departments as a risk management tool to help reduce the potential of a slip and fall incident, and increase legal defensibility should such an accident occur.

Those companies that can document compliance can also strengthen their defense in the event of a lawsuit by presenting an evidentiary trail of due diligence and fulfilled duty of care towards their employees and customers. As for those companies that do not document safe floor programs or choose not to comply with these standards, this may be a determining factor in the outcome of litigation.

By utilizing and adhering to these standards, custodial departments can compile much-needed information about the performance of the floors and the risk level they present for a slip and fall.  But many custodial managers will ask: What is the difference between static and dynamic coefficient of friction? Which is better, the static or dynamic test?

The B101.1 static test method measures the “slip potential” of the walkway. In other words, how likely is someone to begin a slip on a wet floor surface? The higher the tested static coefficient of friction, or traction level as it is referred to in the standard, the less likely a person is to begin a slip.

The B101.3 wet dynamic test method measures the “slide potential” of a surface. Essentially, once a person feels the initial slip, how likely are they to continue to slide on the surface? The higher the wet dynamic coefficient of friction, the lower the risk of a slip-and-fall event.

Each standard measures different characteristics of the walkway surface, and therefore, both are important and relevant, as long as they are used under proper circumstances. To leave one aspect of the walkway surface untested would give an incomplete view of the actual risk of slips and falls.

Both of these standards emphasize safety even further by classifying walkways into three risk categories or “Traction Levels” — high traction (least amount of slip-and-fall risk), moderate traction and low traction (highest risk of a slip and fall).

For example, according to clinical studies performed by the NFSI, floors that measure a wet static coefficient of friction at 0.6 or greater are considered high traction and can reduce slip-and-fall claims by up to 90 percent. Therefore, testing walkways against these national standards demonstrates compliance. Anything less becomes, “your word against mine” in a court of law and leaves departments guessing whether their existing cleaning efforts are truly effective in reducing accidents.

That said, even though the standards provide benchmarks and protect from false claims, they will not prevent all accidents from occurring. Departments should “Test what you can measure, measure what you can control.”

For instance, custodial staffs cannot dictate the shoes that building occupants wear, nor can they control or measure how any one person walks. These are uncontrollable variables. However, cleaners can control and measure the coefficient of friction associated with the walkway surfaces in their facilities. These can be controlled either by wise choices in the selection of flooring, or intelligent selection of floor care products and cleaning tools that elevate the cleanliness and coefficient of friction of the floors.

Departments must implement proper cleaning protocols, maintain accurate sweep logs, develop effective matting programs and incorporate ongoing training on chemical usage, all in an effort to reduce or eliminate slips and falls. But even with all that in place, how do managers know the floors are still not slippery?

Although many floor finishes are classified under the ASTM (formerly the American Society for Testing and Materials) D2047 standard as slip resistant, this does not mean that the floor — under real world conditions — is slip-resistant at all.  Even the most slip resistant surfaces can pose a hazard if they are improperly maintained.

To guarantee proper maintenance, departments can require the use of cleaning tools, equipment and chemicals certified as “high traction” by NFSI. In doing so, custodial managers can be assured that these products, when used properly, will keep slip-resistant floors and finishes “high traction.”

By selecting cleaning products and equipment with a “high traction” certification, establishing an effective maintenance program, training employees in the proper cleaning methodology, using proper matting, and regularly and routinely testing floors to the national standard, custodial managers can document a trail of due diligence to help protect against slip-and-fall accidents and the litigation that often follows.

The one key component that ties all of these together and documents the custodial department’s efforts to keep the floors as safe as possible is independent testing with the ANSI/NFSI B101.0-2012 Walkway Surface Auditing Procedure. This standard outlines how to test the walkways in a facility and how to document compliance with the B101.1 and B101.3 standards. This single step could change the character of a slip-and-fall negligence claim against a facility or deter a fraudulent claim from even being filed.

Previously, when a slip-and-fall lawsuit was filed, the key claim was that the floor was maintained in a dangerous condition. Unfortunately, there was no way to prove that cleaning procedures were in compliance and effective, and that the walkways were indeed safe. However, with the publication of the B101 standards, it is now possible to test floors in the field to measure their “real world” slip resistance and protect departments from fraudulent claims.

NFSI estimates that the average cost of a slip-and-fall workers compensation claim is $4,000, and the average liability award for injury to a building occupant runs from $60,000 to $100,000 per claim. In fact, it is estimated that workers’ compensation and medical expenses associated with slip-and-fall accidents cost businesses $70 billion annually.

Even one slip-and-fall claim can negatively impact a business for years. By using the B101 series of national standards as the comprehensive basis for a floor safety program, workers’ compensation, general liability and litigation costs can be significantly reduced, and slips and falls may become a thing of the past.

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