By Bill Davidson
Injuries from slips and falls are common and expensive. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics¹ reported 211,640 injury cases involving falls, slips, and trips in 2020, and sadly, 805 of them ended in a fatality.
According to the 2021 Liberty Mutual Workplace Safety Index² falls, slips, and trips cause more than 33% of the top 10 most disabling workplace injuries. Together, falls, slips, and trips generate more than $19 billion in costs per year for businesses.
In addition to the monetary costs, falls injure valued employees, damage morale, and have a ripple effect through teams. Almost all falls are preventable, so it only makes sense to prevent them.
The Physics Of Falling
Slips, trips, and falls happen when a person goes from a higher friction surface to a lower one. An example is walking on cement and then moving to black ice. Suddenly, the safe, high-friction surface has no friction at all.
The risk begins with the low-friction surface and is compounded when water, oil, or grease enter the mix. The ideal slip-resistant surface fulfills its mission under all these conditions.
The accepted metric for slip resistance is coefficient of friction (COF), which measures the resistance between two surfaces. That ratio provides a number between 0 and 1. Higher numbers indicate more friction and, thus, safety.
The National Floor Safety Institute (NFSI) has shown that a COF of 0.4 or less is unsafe, while 0.6 or higher is considered safe. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) mandates a 0.6 or higher and 0.8 or higher for inclined surfaces.
Assessing Slip, Trip, And Fall Risks Within A Facility
Even in a massive facility, slips and falls are localized to specific areas. The National Floor Safety Institute (NFSI) finds that 55% of all slip and fall accidents happen on walkways. These are design issues that, once identified, are relatively simple to remedy.
If high-traffic walkways are generating risk, the issue may be the walking surface. Other dangerous areas include elevated walkways, mezzanines, stairways, ladders, and virtually any place exposed to liquids, including water, grease, and oils.
Anti-Slip Solutions: Pros And Cons
A facility’s day-to-day conditions will often govern which anti-slip surface is most appropriate. Some perform reasonably well in dry conditions but do poorly when they become wet or greasy. Others lack durability and can fail in high-traffic areas.
Non-slip Tape is inexpensive and easy to apply, but it lacks durability – sometimes tape must be checked multiple times a day and replaced numerous times a week or month. When tape peels, it can even become a tripping hazard. Also, because tape is only effective for a limited time, maintenance teams and safety managers must monitor its integrity throughout the day, an additional drag on productivity.
Epoxies, like tape, are relatively easy to apply and can be spread over wide areas, but they also have durability issues. It’s not easy to determine if and when their coefficients of friction have become perilously low. When that happens, epoxy must be stripped and reapplied, taking two days or longer, requiring significant operational downtime.
Fiberglass is another imperfect solution. Again, it’s relatively easy to apply, but it will produce toxic gases in a fire and lose its anti-slip properties when wet.
Diamond plate has been around for decades and is quite ubiquitous. As the name implies, it is simply raised diamonds on metal plate. Diamond plate’s advantages include being easy to fabricate and relatively durable. Unfortunately, it also loses its non-slip properties when wet and becomes extremely hazardous. In fact, wet diamond plate is a greater falling hazard than smooth plate (metal plates without the embossed diamond patterns). Friction is generated by the number of contact points between two surfaces, and diamond plate actually reduces the number of contacts between shoe and floor. Water and grease take away all the contact points, increasing fall risk dramatically.
Coated Metal: Bonded surface technologies have a high coefficient of friction and maintain anti-slip properties even after years of wear, providing effective fall prevention and long-term durability.
SLIPNOT manufactures specialized safety flooring products and surface technologies that reduce slips, trips, and falls by over 90%. The patented coating technology can be applied to steel, stainless steel, and aluminum with a maximum bond strength of more than 4,000 psi, resulting in an extremely durable and long-lasting surface. SLIPNOT technologies exceed all safety regulations for slip resistance.
This process creates thousands of tiny, random peaks on the surface. Whereas other anti-slip surfaces become more slippery as they wear down, the peaks retain their anti-slip properties over time as they endure wear and tear. Even when wet from liquids, detergent, and oils, the surface maintains its high-friction qualities, so operations can continue despite the presence of liquids that would otherwise bring it to a halt.
Calculating ROI For Anti-Slip Flooring
Take a holistic approach when calculating the return on non-slip flooring investments. Tape requires constant maintenance and replacement, which should always be factored in. Diamond plate is durable, but it may not be providing adequate protection, particularly when wet, and it can actually increase the incidences of costly slips and falls.
There are also productivity costs to consider:
- If a material loses its non-slip properties when wet, production must slow or stop while workers dry it.
- Temporary quick fixes like tape and mats roll up. They must constantly be checked for their soundness by the safety manager or facilities crew, time they could use for increasing operational efficiency.
- People don’t move normally on slippery surfaces – they must proceed cautiously, walking more flat-footed or with a wider gait to keep from falling. Throughout a long shift, this can reduce productivity and potentially lead to health concerns for the employee.
Inadequate safety is a very real business cost. Ultimately, reducing fall risks is a long game, and failing to do it effectively can generate ancillary costs. Pay close attention to both function and durability. After that, the decision is usually pretty easy.
Bill Davidson is CEO of SLIPNOT, a manufacturer of specialized safety flooring and surface technologies. SLIPNOT’s customers include facility and safety managers, specifiers and installers. Bill has experience in healthcare, facility management and manufacturing and industrial environments and his rich career history spans leadership in finance, sales and business development for emerging software and service technologies.
Bill is a member of the Association of Energy Engineers and has earned the association’s Certified Energy Manager (CEM), Certified Demand Side Manager (CDSM) and Business Energy Professional (BEP) certifications. He is also a member of the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) and a past board member for the National Association of Energy Service Companies (NAESCO) and The Energy Services Coalition (ESC). Bill has a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering from South Dakota School of Mines and Technology.