According to the University of Wisconsin (UW), slips, trips and falls constitute the majority of general industry accidents in the U.S. Over the past several years in Wisconsin, as in most states, these specific accidents make up one of the top five causes for worker’s compensation claims.
In a professional carwash, where water and protruding surfaces are common, slips, trips and falls can be even more serious. And, during the winter months, much of this water may become ice, which increases the potential for broken bones, head and back injuries, cuts and lacerations.
Before we discuss ways to prevent slips, trips and falls, let’s first consider exactly what these three words mean. The following definitions are provided by UW:
- A “slip” occurs when there is too little traction or friction between the shoe and a walking surface.
- A “trip” occurs when a person’s shoe (or foot) contacts an object that is in their way or drops to a lower level unexpectedly.
- A “fall” is a sudden, uncontrollable descent.
Additionally, we should know the different types of slips, trips and falls. The most common include:
- The traditional slip-and-fall: This is when a person’s center of gravity is shaken after losing secure foot contact with the floor.
- Step-and-fall: This is when the floor surface unexpectedly changes height — up or down — from a hole or depression in the floor.
- Stump (stub)-and-fall: Encountering an unseen or unexpected impediment or obstruction — a drain cover that has lifted or a mat that has curled, for instance — can result in a stump-and-fall. This can also occur when someone walks over a “tacky” part of a floor.
- Trip-and-fall: A foreign object on the floor, such as a power cord or an unseen or unexpected step, can result in a trip-and-fall.
Now that we have the basics down, owners and operators should also know the contributing factors to a slip, trip and fall. As you might expect, at the top of the list are wet or slippery surfaces; this is followed by environmental conditions caused by snow or ice on surfaces which are normally safe to walk on; insufficient or inadequate lighting; and one that is often overlooked, changes in elevation. This often occurs when the front foot lands on a lower surface than expected, and it can actually be one of the most injurious types of falls.
The human factor in slips, trips and falls is also important to note. Sometimes workers simply do not take proper precautions or use common sense. They may carry objects that are too heavy, awkward or that block their view. Some slips and falls have even been attributed to the common cold, which affects the ear canal and causes balance problems.
Developing a comprehensive floor safety program
Employers at a carwash location can prevent slip-and-fall accidents in several ways, and it all starts with creating a culture of safety. This is done by educating everyone about how these accidents occur, how to prevent them as well as how their own responsibility plays a part in avoiding slips and falls.
A carwash facility, in work and customer areas, should also be kept as clean as possible. Soil and water mixed together can result in an incredibly slippery substance, which means the area is just waiting for a slip or fall to happen. Along with this, excessive water buildup in work areas should be swept into drains.
Workers should all wear slip-resistant footwear designed for use in an industrial setting. These shoes not only help prevent slips but they may be waterproof as well. Look for shoes that have a raised tread pattern on the bottom as well as a cross-hatch pattern. Also, a softer rubber shoe bottom tends to be more slip-resistant, mainly because it conforms better to the floor’s surface.
Floor matting is crucial for an effective floor safety program. When many owners and managers think of mats, they invariably think of the small, three-by-five-foot mats placed at an entry door. What many do not know is there are several different types of mats in a variety of sizes that are perfect for use in a professional carwash.
Among these are the following:
- Bi-level mats: As the name implies, these mats consist of two levels. Usually placed in entries and busy walkways, such as between a customer and service area at a carwash, bi-level mats capture soil and moisture which are then deposited below the surface of the mat. This helps prevent these contaminants from coming into a facility or spreading from one area to another.
- Safety-flow mats: These mats can prove effective in promoting safety, which is one reason they are found in all types of industrial locations. Flow-through mats typically have openings that allow moisture to flow below the surface of the matting. This keeps the walking surface dry, helping to prevent a slip-and-fall accident.
- Safety-flow with anti-fatigue properties: Similar to the safety-flow mat, another option is the use of what are sometimes referred to as “dura step” mats. This type allows moisture to flow through, but it is also an anti-fatigue mat. For employees in a carwash who must stand while working, these mats not only promote safety but can improve worker productivity as well.
- Grit-safe mats: This type, which is specially designed for slippery workstations, allows moisture to flow through the mat; it also helps prevent the transfer of soils. As mentioned, moisture and soil are prime ingredients for a slippery floor.
Most of the mats discussed in this article are not “rental” mats. Invariably, these mats must be purchased. However, there tends to be quite a difference between rental mats and those that are purchased. In most cases, purchased mats are not only made of high-quality materials and are more effective, but they also are more economical.
When calculating how much is spent to rent versus the cost to buy a mat, you will most likely come out ahead financially if you choose to purchase, which means safer mats that save money as well.
Adam Strizzi is marketing manager for Crown Matting Technologies, one of the oldest and largest floor matting companies in the U.S. He can be reached through his company’s website at www.crown-mats.com.