Stay on your feet

In the UAE, where there is an abundance of marble flooring, a high incidence of slips and trips is likely.

ANALYSIS, Facilities Management

Slips, trips and falls are often common in the workplace, but how can they be avoided?

Installing an aesthetically pleasing floor is usually the primary concern for most companies. But in the UK alone, nearly 11,000 workers suffered serious injury last year as a result of a slip or trip, emphasising the importance of choosing a practical solution.

In order to try and reduce this preventable injury toll the Health and Safety Executive in the UK has initiated its 'Shattered Lives' campaign.

People watching in malls reveal a number of people skidding on highly polished floors.

With statistics that indicate that almost 1,000 workers a month endure a major injury following a slip, trip or fall, the Shattered Lives campaign is aimed primarily at those most at risk of these accidents at work, including construction workers, gas fitters, electricians and other tradespeople, site managers and kitchen and food retail staff, as well as those best placed to take action.

Marble - friend or foe?

In a country like the UAE, where there is an abundance of marble flooring, it is likely that there is also a high incidence of slips and trips. An afternoon of people watching in malls, such as Festival City, will reveal a number of people skidding on the highly polished floors, which isn't exactly conducive to trawling the shops.

The issue is aggrevated by the fact many patrons wear casual and gripless footwear, such as flip flops. So when this is taken into account, why is marble so often specified in the UAE and the rest of the Middle East?

Michael Cox-Hill, general manager of the British Safety Council in Dubai, thinks the answer is simple. "Marble is cooler, which is essential in a country as hot as the UAE. Besides, it's also a status symbol and easier to clean and keep dust-free than carpet would be."

Cleaning and maintenance

It may sound obvious, but regular and effective cleaning to remove contamination helps reduce accidents. But using the wrong cleaning and maintenance products can have a negative impact on flooring from a health and safety perspective.

If the marble flooring has a high-gloss finish, it can be dangerously slippery. Brian Schillibeer, managing editor of British Safety Council publications reveals, "if natural marble is used it can be sealed or unsealed. Unsealed marble will give you a certain roughness because it gives you grip. If you seal it you will get a high gloss finish, but that's when you get a problem with trips and slips. However, there are products on the market that will give you a reasonable gloss finish and also impart a treatment that adds grip to the surface. Similarly, if the floor has been laid badly and you use an abrasive cleaner you can start to damage the floor and create pitted tiles, which gives you the opposite effect, as that's when people start tripping."

Sometimes, the very process of cleaning can actually produce slip and trip hazards. Glossy floors left damp by a mop are likely to be very slippery.

An effective cleaning regime requires a good management system and open communication is especially required between equipment and chemical suppliers to ensure the appropriateness of the products for the type of contaminant and floor.

Effective training and supervision is also vital to ensure cleaning is undertaken to the correct standard. Cleaners should be informed as to why the cleaning needs to be carried out in a particular fashion or at a certain time, as a lack of understanding can lead to dangerous shortcuts.

They should also use the right amount of the correct cleaning product and all cleaning equipment should be well maintained to remain effective.

The fact that people often slip on floors that have been left wet after cleaning, means that companies should prevent access to smooth wet floors by using barriers, as well as signs and cones that warn of a hazard, locking doors where possible or cleaning in sections.

Causes

Slip and trip accidents can happen for numerous reasons. Anything from unsuitable flooring in a workplace for the type of work activities that take place and insufficient roughness or the floor not being cleaned correctly, to, causing it to become slippery or lose its slip resistance properties and floors not being fitted correctly. All can lead to slips and trips.

Failing to ensure there are no trip hazards, not guaranteeing that non slip coatings are correctly applied, floors failing to be maintained in good order creating holes, uneven surfaces or curled up carpet edges, as well as ramps, raised platforms and other changes of level not being highlighted are also the main causes for slips and trips.


Moisture on the floor through accidental spills is one of the primary causes of slips.

"In a lot of buildings with air conditioning or plants, such as a hotel foyer, there's also likely to be a humidifier. This causes a tendency for condensation and unfortunately, enough moisture on floors to create slips. There are also more incidents of slips on high gloss floors," confirms Schillibeer.

Prevention is better than cure

Most floors usually become slippery once they become contaminated with products such as oil, water and dust and contamination is implicated in almost all slip accidents. Therefore, if you prevent contamination, you diminish or even eradicate the slip risk.

Contamination can often be controlled by using products such as drip trays for leaks, lids on cups and containers or large mats at building entrances for people to wipe their feet.

If it can't be avoided, the floor needs to be cleaned effectively and quickly. "In the case of any spillage, it needs to be mopped up quickly, as the floor should be kept clean and dry at all times," says Schillibeer.

"You may not be able to dictate what shoes people wear in malls, but you can ensure that people wear the correct footwear at work."

There are also more definite measures companies can take to prevent accidents. "You can measure the friction of the floor, which means it is possible to test if a floor is too slippery. In fact, there's plenty of equipment to allow these tests to take place. There are also numerous health and safety risk assessment measures that can be done. For instance, even on hard floors you can have a strip of carpet in the middle, making a walk way, as well as plenty of mats. It's important to remember that a sandy environment will make things slippery, just as rain will. Therefore, during the design process, companies can include barrier matting at the entrance of any building to absorb dust, as well as moisture," he adds.

Beauty over substance

Nevertheless, despite these measures, thousands of slipping accidents occur every year, causing occupational and public sector injuries, time-off work and financial loss for individuals and companies alike.

But most of the public, as well as many of those designing floors, believe that these accidents are unavoidable. If wise floor choices are made, then the risks to those who use the floor can be significantly reduced.

It seems strange that until more recently, the right choice of flooring wasn't being considered when it should have been; at the very start of the design process.

Schillibeer believes that this is because aesthetics rather than practicality are still the primary motivation for architects and designers.

Architects are still mainly interested in designing fine looking buildings, but don't usually think about maintenance issues. Although, that has now started to change slightly in the UK.

The Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) has produced a comprehensive document, which advises members on specifying flooring with maintenance issues considered. Designers are now encouraged to think about health and safety, but it's a slow process as they are still more concerned by aesthetics.

Recent trends

Over recent years there has been a definite shift away from soft to hard flooring in homes and shops. "In the UK and Europe there is a trend away from soft flooring, for example, carpets are replaced with harder floors, such as marble, tiles, wood, laminate flooring and the introduction of vinals," says Schillibeer.

However, he does concede that this trend has been mainly witnessed on lower floors in commercial buildings and hotels.

"Once you get beyond the ground floor and reception area onto the higher floors, then they are still carpeted. This is to do with sound and dirt absorption, as people want to sleep in hotels and certainly don't want to hear a lot of sound."

He also believes that this trend is partly because hard flooring is more hygienic, as not only can it be cleaned easier than soft flooring, but also doesn't harbour the millions of mites that carpets do; making it far more desirable for homes, hospitals and kitchens alike.

Unfortunately, this increased popularity in hard flooring seems to go hand-in-hand with a greater incidence of slips and trips. An issue Schillibeer is concerned people don't take seriously enough.

"Most accidents happen because people don't think about what they're doing. What people fail to realise is that if you slip and break a hip or bang your head that can have a very severe impact on their lives and it's all so avoidable."

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