Preventing Slips, Trips and Falls
Every employer is concerned about preventing slips and falls and the general safety of their employees and any customers or clients who visit their workplace. What many people do not know is the 2012 International Building Code (IBC) made a significant change in what is required for certain flooring conditions and materials when it comes to slip and fall resistance. Shockingly, according to safety statistics from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), approximately 15% of all accidental deaths are related to slips and falls, second only behind auto accidents.
To add to the confusion, paragraph 2103.6 the 2012 IBC makes a fairly innocuous statement, “Ceramic tile shall be as defined in, and shall conform to the requirements of the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) 137.1.” Even though the language of the code specifically references ceramic tile, many presume it also is the reference for marble, granite, wood, vinyl or other walking surfaces.
“These requirements leave a great deal of room for interpretation and second-guessing on what constitutes acceptable flooring in the full range of possible conditions.”
The ANSI 137.1 documents include flooring materials requirements that can generally be summarized as:
- Typically, comparison of flooring materials can be measured using a Dynamic Coefficient of Friction (DCOF).
- The evaluation of flooring materials for a slip resistance test should be done using a wetting agent of the floor and a DCOF.
- The wet DCOF of compliant flooring should be a minimum of 0.42 on level floors.
- Keep in mind, using the 0.42 value (this is the ratio of horizontal sliding force divided by vertical gravity load with a maximum value of 1.0) does not mean that the value is acceptable everywhere or under every condition.
- Those who specify the flooring material shall be responsible for determining the appropriate conditions the material is evaluated under. This can include wet conditions, wear of the surface, external contaminants, ramps/slopes and maintenance.
As you can see, these requirements leave a great deal of room for interpretation and second-guessing on what constitutes acceptable flooring in the full range of possible conditions.
Which Dynamic Coefficient Of Friction Value Do I Use?
There has long been the misconception that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) had a DCOF value. But that assumption has been shown to be incorrect, and any reference to the accessibility guideline values in the ADA (where suggestions were made) has removed any reference to the DCOF value. OSHA also has a value they recommend for on the job safety conditions. Some venues also have DCOF values in their codes. One example of this wide variation on regulation is the Wisconsin Building Code where they state the areas around swimming pools are required to be slip resistant, which is then defined as a wet DCOF of 0.50.
“Consideration should be given to people tracking water, snow, grease and oils in restaurants across the flooring surface. We even should take the type of people that will be using the facility into consideration as some are much more likely to slip and fall than others.”
So where does all of this indefinite regulation leave building owners, employers, design professionals or any other party selecting a finish on a walking surface? Well, at minimum we have the base wet DCOF of 0.42. From there a comparison of various floor materials can be tested and evaluated using the minimum requirements as to how they fit the standards. If there are remaining concerns about the suitability of the floor, potential conditions can be managed by the presence and size of walk-off mats and topical coatings that greatly improve slip resistance. Consideration should be given to people tracking water, snow, grease and oils in restaurants across the flooring surface. We even should take the type of people that will be using the facility into consideration as some are much more likely to slip and fall than others.
Other things that affect the potential for a person to slip or fall includes footwear; how well people are paying attention and even an individual’s gait. Research has shown that some people are more susceptible to issues with falling due to their gait. Statistics show that one in three people over the age of 65 will experience a fall. Half of these people are repeat falls.
Slip Resistance Test for Existing Flooring Materials
So how does one even know what the preexisting floor conditions are in a building or how does one make a comparison of the various flooring materials? There are a number of different pieces of test equipment in the industry designed to measure the DCOF and many of them have been shown to be inconsistent on their accuracy and repeatability.
“The standard that has been suggested to be the most reliable slip resistance test in the ANSI A137.1 document is the BOT-3000 device… showing it is the least susceptible for influence by the operator and provides reproducible and repeatable results.”
The standard that has been suggested to be the most reliable slip resistance test in the ANSI A137.1 document is the BOT-3000 device. This is a box about the size of a shoebox. It contains motors, batteries and sensors, with a “foot” on the bottom that is placed in a pool of water. When a button is pushed, the device automatically measures the floor’s slip resistance. The procedure has a number of values taken and averaged to determine the values of the floor by scuffing its “foot” along the floor. The BOT-3000 has been selected for this type of measurement through research and testing, showing it is the least susceptible for influence by the operator and provides reproducible and repeatable results.
Be sure to check out our short video that demonstrates the BOT-3000 in action and also shows some of the older, less reliable slip resistance test methods we have measured for DCOF in the past.
What DCOF Measurement is the Absolute Requirement?
When a designer is looking to select flooring, for all the various conditions described above, it may be very difficult to gather information on the DCOF from a supplier. There is also the idea by some that since the 2012 IBC only addressed ceramic tile that other flooring materials may not be subject to the same performance criteria. However, based on my experience as an expert witness for many slip and fall cases and my observations of the industry, in cases of slip and fall injuries, the injured party’s counsel and experts will try to use these measurements as absolute requirements.
“Since the Bot-3000 is a very portable device, it may be a good idea to have various floor areas in buildings tested to validate the current conditions to see if there are means to mitigate potentials for slip and falls.”
Since the BOT-3000 is a very portable device, it may be a good idea to have various floor areas in buildings tested to validate the current conditions to see if there are means to mitigate potentials for slip and falls. Having a qualified professional test your flooring conditions and materials for slip resistance could save you a lot of headaches down the line and possibly avoid a future slip in your building. For information on how we can help you, please reach out to Steve Flaten.