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Why flooring should be on occ-health agenda
Consider materials, cleaning to prevent falls
Floor covering and floor cleaners may seem like subjects for a facilities manager and not occupational health professionals. But flooring is a critical aspect of one of the most common injuries in hospitals.
"Slips, trips, and falls are always one of the top loss drivers [for workers' compensation]," says Joseph Sanna Jr., CSP, MS, risk control specialist with the PMA Companies, an insurance and risk management consulting firm based in Bluebell, PA.
A common culprit is the flooring. Dry or wet, it's often a contributing factor in an injury that, at first blush, seems like a "simple" accident. "Think about the number of steps people are having on your campus and how much exposure there is to a fall," says Sanna. "[About] 143 million steps a year are taken in a building. That's a lot of steps. We're bound to have missteps. Everybody falls at some point in their life."
The risk increases as the work force ages as older people are more prone to falls, he notes. Slick flooring creates a hazard. Cleaning methods can exacerbate the situation, notes Sanna.
For example, when an environmental services worker continually rinses a mop in a bucket of dirty water, he or she is actually adding a contaminant to the floor, he says. Certain products can leave a slippery sheen. And responding to a spill with wet floor signs but without prompt cleanup can result in complacency. Employees get used to ignoring the signs.
Additives to cleaning products can increase the friction coefficient and decrease the risk of falling.
Sanna advises employee health professionals to investigate slips, trips, and falls to uncover measures to prevent future injuries. For example, one hospital extended its doormat from 4 feet to 12 feet to capture more moisture as employees entered the building on icy days. A heated entryway also can melt icy patches, and providing umbrella covers can reduce the wet puddles on tile floors on a rainy day.
Slip-resistant shoes also can have a major impact on falls, Sanna says. If you decide to implement a program that includes slip-resistant shoes, then they should be a required part of the uniform, he says. Define what qualifies as a slip-resistant shoe and how often the shoes must be replaced, Sanna advises.