Focus on Floors

Floor safety is a hot button issue with OSHA right now. Are your floors ready for inspection?

By Matt Morrison

As all retailers, restaurants and foodservice operations know, floor care and floor cleanliness are very important. First of all, it is well known that germs and bacteria on floors can find their way onto hands and counters and into eyes, noses and mouths — a phenomenon known as cross-contamination. Cleaner floors mean healthier store environments. And just as important, proper floor care can help prevent slip-and-fall accidents. According to the National Floor Safety Institute (NFSI), falls account for 8 million emergency hospital visits every year, making them the leading cause of ER visits. And while slips and falls do not constitute a primary cause for fatal work-related injuries, they represent the primary reason for lost workdays in the United States.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is now focusing on reducing injuries due to slips and falls — and reducing them significantly. Some of the steps OSHA is taking, which will be discussed in greater detail later, are unprecedented for the organization. However, OSHA believes these steps are necessary, pointing to its successful record of reducing other types of workplace injuries and fatalities as an example of what it hopes to accomplish when it comes to reducing slip-and-fall accidents.

retail 1For instance, in 1913, with fewer than 40 million people in the U.S. workplace, there were 23,000 work-related fatal accidents; in contrast, by 2013, with the U.S. workplace about five times larger, there were only 4,000 work-related deaths. Further, in 1971, when OSHA was created, there were an average of 11 safety incidents reported in the United States per 100 workers. By 2010, that rate had dropped to only 4 incidents per 100 workers — a drop OSHA attributes to regulations and actions taken by the organization.

So what is OSHA doing to help improve floor safety that is so unprecedented? According to Russell Kendzior, president of the NFSI, instead of adopting formal, published floor safety standards and regulations, OSHA is taking steps under what is called the “general duty clause” to randomly inspect and test floors as to their slip resistance — often evaluating them using higher standards than most property owners are aware of. And in some cases, these random inspections can be sweeping.

The Fast Food Experience

Kendzior offers the following example in the fast food industry of these widespread inspections. Recently, OSHA inspected 100 locations of a national fast food franchise all in one day. In what he termed a “raid,” the inspectors knew exactly what they were looking for. They were not concerned about the kitchen or food safety. Their focus was on the floors, and they determined that many of the floors in the different locations were at “high risk” for a slip-and-fall accident to occur. Several locations were cited for “high-risk” floors, and each was fined $1,500.

For the most part, the fast food locations were surprised not only about having their floors inspected but even more so that it was determined their floors were unsafe. “[The fast food outlets] likely assumed they were taking adequate precautions to ensure the safety of their floors,” says Kendzior. “They were totally unprepared nor even expected this event.”

Of course, the goal of these inspections is to ensure safety. However, what concerns many property owners and managers along with contracted cleaning professionals that maintain floors in facilities — and what is so unprecedented for OSHA — are the following:

• The inspections are occurring in locations indiscriminately, even where there has not been an incident or accident reported.

• Few property owners and managers or contract cleaners are even aware of OSHA’s new “high-risk” standards for floors.

• As mentioned earlier, the program is being instituted even though it has not been officially published or announced.

• There are no clear standards established by OSHA as to what defines a safe floor and what constitutes a “high-risk” or slippery floor.

• At this time, OSHA does not have a working definition as to what “slip resistance” actually is.

What You Need to Know

First of all, we need to repeat that the goal of this program, as extraordinary as its introduction has been, is to promote floor safety. We are all for that, no question. And a lot of good is likely to come from this program, even though some facilities, such as some of the fast food locations, may believe they are being targeted unfairly or too unexpectedly.

One of the first good things to come out of OSHA’s new floor inspection program is that building owners will become much more focused on keeping their floors safe. Building owners are also going to become a lot more familiar with terms like COF, SCOF, DCOF, slip meters, friction and resistance.

The following explains these terms:

• The coefficient of friction (COF) expresses the degree of slip resistance of a floor surface.

• When the COF is measured from a resting (stopped) position, it is called the static coefficient of friction (SCOF).

• When the COF is measured when the surfaces are in relative motion, it is called the dynamic coefficient of friction (DCOF).

How these different types of friction are determined is through the use of slip meters. In its simplest form, a slip meter is moved over the floor and, as it does so, it rates the resistance. Traditionally, a rating of 0.5 was passing, but now building owners/managers should look for a 0.6 rating, slightly higher but indicating considerably more slip resistance.

Floor Care Equipment

Now is the perfect time for building owners/managers as well as cleaning professionals to investigate the types of equipment they are using on floors. Many restaurants and retailers have shied away from floor machines such as automatic scrubbers in the past, mainly due to their size, expense and the training necessary to operate one. Further complications arise in smaller areas such as a fast food restaurant with its many tables, counters and barriers.

Until recently, cleaning professionals had few options other than using automatic scrubbers or mopping floors. Mopping is an option that is slowly disappearing because of studies that show mopping floors can do more damage than good, especially when it comes to preventing slip-and-fall accidents.

However, what are termed “autovac” systems are now available. Similar in cleaning results to an automatic scrubber, these systems are walked over a floor area. As it is walked over the floor, measured amounts of cleaning solution are deposited directly to the floor. An attachment agitates the floor, loosening soils, which are then vacuumed up, along with moisture, all in one process.

It is worth noting that these machines recently won an “Innovation” award at the recent ISSA 2015 tradeshow. ISSA is the worldwide cleaning association.

The bottom line for retailers and restaurant owners and managers is this: Floor care is now a hot-button issue for OSHA. Being aware of this, owners and managers can take steps now to adequately prepare by understanding floor care terms in regard to slip resistance, improving their floor care procedures, and purchasing the right floor care equipment. If these steps are taken, it should not be difficult to meet this new level of safety.

 

— Matt Morrison is communications manager for Kaivac, developers of the No-Touch® and Omniflex™ Crossover cleaning systems. He may be reached via www.kaivac.com.

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