Balancing Act

The importance of COF in preventing slip-and-fall accidents.

By Michael Wilson

Restaurant and retail facilities have many things in common, starting from their floors up. While the use of carpet in many restaurants and retail locations was once widespread, many have since installed different types of hard surface floors in place of the carpet. While some experts in the carpet manufacturing industry will not concur, it is generally believed that hard surface floors last longer and are easier to care for than carpet, which is likely the key reason for the change.

But with more hard surface flooring installed, restaurant and retail managers must contend with something else: the likelihood there will be more slip-and-fall accidents. According to the National Floor Safety Institute (NFSI), which keeps records on slip-and-fall accidents in the U.S., an estimated 8 million people end up in emergency rooms due to slip-and-fall accidents, making it the leading reason for an emergency room visit. And in restaurants, the NFSI estimates there are about 3 million slip-and-fall accidents each year, varying in nature, with most of them involving restaurant workers.

Of course, no manager wants anyone using his or her facility — guest or worker — to have a slip-and-fall accident, but if they do and it is shown that your facility is at fault, court damages can be considerable. An example of this happened in a grocery store near Atlanta in 2012. A 49-year-old man slipped in the store and suffered a spinal cord injury. He had to undergo medical treatments which amounted to $135,000 and missed many days of work. The court ruled that the store was at fault for the injury and awarded the man $2.3 million in damages, one of the largest slip-and-fall settlements ever. 1

So how can we reduce the possibility of a slip-and-fall accident occurring in our facility? As to issues of negligence as just discussed, managers must develop ways to ensure their floors are safe at all times and that if a problem is found, it is addressed promptly. But more on that later. Right now we have to discuss ways to make the floor itself safer to walk on, and how we do that is with a bag of beans.

The Bean Bag Test

Slip-and-fall accidents are certainly nothing new in retail stores or restaurants. In fact, the problem goes back centuries.

At the turn of the 19th century, cleaning workers who decided it was time to start looking for ways to address the problem created the bean bag test. What they did was attach a 10-lb bag of beans to a spring scale. They then pulled the bag over a freshly cleaned floor. If the scale indicated 6 lbs of pull or more, it was determined there was enough friction of the floor to help prevent a slip-and-fall accident. If there was less than 6 lbs of pull, the floor was deemed slippery because there was not enough friction and a slip-and-fall accident could be possible.

Essentially, the bean bag test is still being conducted today; however, today it doesn’t use beans — instead, a high-tech system very accurately indicates what is now termed the coefficient of friction (COF) of the floor. The machine used today is called a tribometer.

The tribometer determines the friction of the floor and if it reports a COF of 0.6, the floor should be safe. If below this number, there is not enough friction on the floor to prevent a slip-and-fall from occurring. We should also note that too high a COF, say 0.8, can also be detrimental. This indicates that the floor is “tacky” or sticky, which can also lead to a slip-and-fall accident.

Since 2012, two new types of tribometers have been introduced. These newer systems measure static coefficient of friction (SCOF), which determines how slippery a floor is if liquid is poured on the floor. The other is Dynamic Coefficient of Friction (DCOF), a bit more complicated to understand, but this measurement takes an even closer analysis of the floor’s friction or slip resistance in more of a real-life situation. 2

How to Maintain a 0.6 Reading

As you can see, tribometers, COF, SCOF and DCOF can all get a bit confusing. And for a retailer wanting to sell clothing or a restaurateur wanting to come up with new and exciting recipes, these issues are just not something they want to contend with. For this reason, and because of the importance of the issue, it is highly recommended that they work with a savvy janitorial distributor.

As with cleaning workers, janitorial distributors have come a long way from the bean bag days when it comes to keeping floors more slip resistant. Some distributors now have access to advanced “dashboard” systems that can help elevate their customers when it comes to selecting floor care products that ensure greater safety in their facilities.

These technologies are designed to compare products such as floor care cleaners and finishes as to cost, performance and capabilities to ensure that 0.6 rating. And we should mention, the technology recognizes that not all situations are alike when it comes to making floor care product selections.

Say the first floor of a retail store is very busy and moisture is often walked in from outside. The dashboard will likely recommend a certain type of floor finish for that floor and for another floor that is less impacted by foot traffic and moisture, a different finish. Essentially the system is designed to “take the roof off the facility,” allowing distributors and their customers to look inside and analyze the floor care needs of each location in the building.

But there are some things managers can do to prevent slip-and-fall accidents and protect their pocketbooks, in case an accident does occur. Among them are the following:

• Keep a daily record of what floor care tasks were performed each day, when, and by whom.

• Educate staff to be on the lookout for anything that could result in a slip-and-fall accident.

• Ensure wet-floor warning signs are posted several feet before the spill area and around the problem area.

• Maintain clear aisles and passageways and prevent obstructions.

• Ensure walkways are in good repair.

• Provide multiple floor/wall plugs for power equipment to ensure power cords are not run across walkway paths.

• Report and clean up spills immediately.

• Work with a janitorial distributor to ensure that non-slip coatings are applied to the floor.

We’ve mentioned the need for working with a janitorial distributor a couple of times. It’s worth the extra mention because it is so important. Look for a distributor that not only has access to technology, such as the system discussed here, but also wants to partner with you, keeping your facility safe and clean. When it comes to preventing slip-and-fall accidents, retailers and restaurateurs often need a knowledgeable partner.

 

 1 It can actually be quite hard to prove a restaurant or retail store is at fault in a slip-and-fall accident. What the plaintiff must prove is that there was negligence of some kind; for instance, the retailer knew or should have known of the problem that caused a slip-and-fall accident, but did nothing about it.

The Atlanta case is complicated, which resulted in the very high award to the plaintiff. The store’s surveillance cameras were pointed at the very spot where the fall occurred. Initially, the store claimed the videos no longer existed. However, it was found the store intentionally destroyed the tapes. The judge then concluded that the store was likely negligent and added punitive damages because they destroyed the tapes.

2 Note: All three systems do not predict that a slip-and-fall accident will occur. They indicate, depending on the evaluation, that a slip-and-fall accident may occur if appropriate actions are not taken.

 

— Michael Wilson is vice president of marketing for AFFLINK, a global leader in supply chain optimization, and developers of ELEVATE®, an online technology that provides clients with innovative process and procurement solutions to drive efficiencies in today’s leading businesses. He can be reached through his company website at www.AFFLINK.com.

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