Although slip and fall accidents, inside and outside of facilities, can occur at any time of year, they become an even bigger concern when winter arrives. Outdoors, snow covers lawns, heaps on top of debris on walkways, covers curbs, and when it starts to melt, can form an icy glaze, all making it more likely that someone will slip and fall.
And as building users make their way into facilities, walking through the snow and ice, moisture and debris have likely collected on their shoe bottoms, essentially walking the adverse winter conditions indoors. Because of this, building owners and managers must take steps to ensure walkway conditions are safe.
Inside the facility, the best ways to ensure safety and help prevent slip and fall accidents are to have an effective mat system in place at all building entries and implement a dependable slip and fall prevention program. Although these strategies are different, they work together to safeguard the people who use your facility every day.
The Mat System
For many owners and managers, it might come as a surprise to consider floor mats as part of a system. A mat’s a mat, right? Wrong, and especially wrong during the cold winter months. There are essentially three types of mats and they all work together—as a system—to keep facilities clean and prevent slip and fall accidents. These are:
- The scraper: Placed outside an entryway, the scraper is intended to scrape off larger debris, moisture, ice, snow and other contaminants from shoe bottoms.
- The wiper/scraper: Many buildings have a vestibule between outside doors and inner doors. This is typically where a wiper/scraper is installed; however, even without the vestibule, this mat should follow the scraper mat and be placed directly inside the building. The wiper/scraper continues to remove moisture and soils from shoe bottoms after the scraper mat outside has done the “heavy work.”
- The wiper: The third part of the mat system is the wiper mat, which is placed inside lobby areas. The wiper is designed to wipe off any remaining debris from shoe bottoms. View this mat as the final line of defense. It ensures shoe bottoms are dry by the time building users walk onto a hard-surface floor or carpet.
All three mats should be 5-feet long, making our mat system a total of 15 feet. Using this system, the three mats can remove up to 70 percent of all moisture and debris on shoes.
To ensure the mats work properly, they must be cleaned on a regular basis. This involves regular vacuuming and, if they become saturated, cleaning with a carpet extractor. Also, cleaning crews should pick the mat up and clean underneath. If moisture builds up under the mat, as it can when there is excessive moisture during the winter months, it can damage the backing of the mat.
Slip and Fall Prevention
We indicated that our mat system can trap as much as 70 percent of the moisture on shoe bottoms that is walked in from outside. That being the case, some will still make it inside. In addition, during the winter months, building users typically spend most of their time indoors, which means the likelihood of spills of one kind or another increases. It is because of this that we need a dependable slip and fall prevention program in place.
For many building owners and managers, a slip and fall prevention program means a mop and bucket. But have you looked at your mop and bucket recently? Unfortunately, many cleaning professionals leave their mops soaking in soiled water between uses. For the most part these professionals know better; it’s simply easier not to clean the mop. Cleaning the mop means rinsing it out several times or laundering it and cleaning and rinsing the bucket, as well. Who has time for that, and why bother?
Well, here is why cleaning professionals should “bother,” and what building owners and managers need to know. A study, “Hospital Sanitation: The Massive Bacterial Contamination of the Wet Mop,” which was published in April 1971 in Applied Microbiology, found that “mops, stored wet, supported bacterial growth to very high levels and could not be adequately decontaminated by chemical disinfection.”
So when that stored wet mop is pulled to clean up a spill to prevent a slip and fall accident, it is spreading the bacterial growth that has accumulated on the mop. This can produce a slippery surface, which can actually cause a slip and fall accident, not prevent one.
Some major retailers that have had to grapple with this winter floor problem for years are now turning to machines specifically designed to quickly clean up spills and moisture from floors, leaving floors dry without spreading harmful bacteria. These machines dispense fresh water/cleaning solution directly onto the floor; a pad agitates the solution to remove soils; a squeegee/vacuum system removes the mess completely, and no mop is used in the process.
Even if there is not a spill, machines like this should be used regularly to clean entry floors, especially during the winter months, to help prevent slips and falls. Combining a slip and fall prevention program with mats that are doing their part to reduce the amount of moisture walked onto the floor, building owners and managers can rest assured they have taken significant steps to keep their facilities healthy, safes and clean this coming winter.