Services & Maintenance: Examining Hard Floor Maintenance

By Chris Koeppel
Published in the January 2005 issue of Today’s Facility Manager

At first blush, a hard floor surface seems safe enough. But get the floor wet or fail to remove all the soapy residue from the floor after cleaning, and suddenly a hard floor surface is inherently dangerous. In fact, according to statistics from the National Safety Council, more than eight million people end up in emergency rooms every year as a result of accidental falls. More than three million of those occur in a place of business-a restaurant, a hotel, a school, an office, or even a medical facility.

“In order to prevent slips and falls in the workplace, a business has to have some form of strategy that deals with the cleaning and maintenance of its floor. It simply cannot put the responsibility on customers or employees by suggesting they watch where they’re walking,” says Russ Kendzior, founder of the Southlake, TX-based National Floor Safety Institute (NFSI), an organization that has developed a universal standard for floor safety.

For facility managers, such a strategy should include assessing both the cleaning process and the tools used to implement that process.

Evaluating The Cleaning Process

A typical hard floor maintenance program consists of daily dust mopping, regularly applying a cleaning solution with some form of agitation, and polishing the floor to make it look shiny and clean. The process is tried and true-and there isn’t a need to change it as long as the process is implemented consistently and effectively.

Consistent cleaning is important because a dirty floor is a potentially unsafe floor with dust, sand, and other debris effecting floor friction. Effective cleaning is equally important. Using a soiled mop and a bucket of used water that at one point had detergent in it doesn’t qualify as effectively applying a cleaning solution. Not only will the floor remain dirty, but it will likely remain wet, slippery, and unsafe.

The good news is that it’s easier than ever to implement an effective hard floor cleaning process, thanks to a growing movement toward automation and technology. Many maintenance programs-because of the tools used to implement them-not only clean but also extend the life of the floor and increase safety for those who maintain and use it.

Assessing The Tools

There are a number of tools that can be used to implement a hard floor maintenance program. And while none are right or wrong (well, perhaps with the exception of the dirty old mop), to stay focused on safety, facility managers might want to pay special attention to four key floor maintenance tools: foam, automated dispensing systems, hygienic recovery tanks, and automated foam scrubbing systems.

One of the latest advancements to emerge in the area of hard floor cleaning is the use of foam as opposed to liquid detergent. Foam-created by injecting air into a water and detergent mixture-dramatically reduces the amount of water used to create the cleaning solution. Because less water is used, foam offers more traction than traditional cleaning agents. And with less water and no messy detergent, foam also won’t migrate or spatter. As a result, foam is, by its very nature, a safer choice for obtaining cleaner and drier floors.

Automated chemical dilution and proportioning systems weed out less effective and more dangerous dispensing methods. Because they ensure the proper amount of chemical is used on the floor, automated dispensing systems prevent those sticky or slippery floors that excessive detergent can cause. In addition to creating a safer floor surface, automated dispensing systems provide for safer chemical handling by equipment operators, as those operators no longer need to come in contact with the chemicals.

Hygienic tanks allow users to access and sanitize the recovery and solution tanks on automated scrubbers quickly and easily. Cleaning the recovery tanks eliminates mold, bacteria, and other contaminants that can grow in enclosed tanks. Not only is a facility’s hygiene greatly improved, but the water being used is cleaner and safer.

Today, there are systems available to facility managers that marry automated chemical dispensing with the use of a foam cleansing agent. These cleaning systems integrate foam technology with scrubbing automation.

Ruth Timmer, manager of environmental services at Centegra Health System in Chicago, IL, needed to maintain the safety and cleanliness of a crowded hospital that was caring for patients around the clock. She’s had impressive results using this type of cleaning system. “The automated foam scrubbing system provides consistent cleaning results and, best of all, helps assure the safety of the medical staff and hospital visitors,” she says. “We’re now able to scrub safely when more doctors and nurses are on the floor, because the floor dries fast. This reduces the number of slip and fall injuries,” Timmer explains.

Certifying Safety

Safety is no longer just a water cooler topic among facility executives, building owners, and housekeeping professionals. A few years ago, Russ Kendzior’s NFSI introduced a product certification program designed to help curb the growing number of slip and fall accidents in commercial environments.

Through the program, NFSI certifies floor coverings, floor polishes, floor cleaning chemicals, and automated cleaning systems as “High-Traction.” The certification means the products offer a significant benefit in the area of slip and fall prevention and provide a higher floor slip resistance value under wet conditions.

As more cleaning equipment and products are certified, companies have better opportunities to improve safety. And experts say it will save them money, not only in reduced claims, but, in some cases, in lower insurance rates.

“The insurance industry will likely never require companies to use certified products to clean their floors, but they certainly might recommend it,” says Jeff Skog, president of Chicago, IL-based Fourth Shift Consulting, a company that provides workplace safety, loss control, and risk management services.

“It is also possible that the insurance industry could begin offering some type of premium rate reduction or incentive to organizations that do use ‘High Traction’ certified products and are able to show a clear reduction in slips and falls,” Skog explains.

With new and evolving tools and technologies at facility managers’ disposal, there’s no time like the present to implement a floor maintenance program that not only elevates cleanliness but safety, as well.

Koeppel is senior area manager with Minneapolis, MN-based Tennant Company and can be reached