Slip-and-fall accidents in public places, including retail stores, are the leading cause of premise liability injuries and rank among facilities managers' top management issues. And with the elderly particularly vulnerable to falls, the size and scope of the problem is likely to grow in the near future given the aging of the baby boomers.
Statistics from major insurance firms detail the problem. Slip-and-fall injuries are the leading source of general liability claims incurred by CNA policyholders in the real estate sector. (CNA is one of the country's largest commercial insurance writer and the 13th largest property and casualty company.)
Experts say that retailers can lower their risk of slip-and-fall incidents by selecting high-traction flooring when building new stores and remodeling existing facilities. Indeed, according to CNA, using materials with proven high-traction characteristics is one of the most cost-effective ways to avoid slip-and-fall issues related to hard floors. Since texture, to a great degree, determines a floor's slip resistance, floors with abrasives in their surface can be very slip-resistant, even when wet. Soft surfaces, such as carpet, are also safe with regard to slip and fall.
According to Russell Kendzior, founder of the National Floor Safety Institute (NFSI), the most tractable flooring choice is polished concrete.
"Polished concrete offers one of the highest levels of traction and is very consistent," he said.
It's worth noting that all floors can become less tractable if cleaned with the wrong products. Some products, for example, can deposit a slippery sheen. Retailers are advised to select floor treatment, cleaning and maintenance products with proven slip-resistance characteristics that are compatible with the particular flooring surface. (For a list of products certified by the NFSI, go to nfsi.org).
MATS: Many retailers rely on entranceway mats to prevent dirt, water and other materials from being tracked into the store and to help reduce the risk of slip and fall. It's important that stores use the right type of matting and provide for proper inspections and maintenance, all of which are detailed in the recently published ANSI/NFSI B101.6 entrance mat standard.
"In the past, there were no standards for the use, selection, inspections and maintenance of entrance mats, but today there is and retailers need to be aware of them," Kendzior said.
With regard to the thickness of mats, the rule (ADA, ASTM and the like) is that the mats be less than 1/4-in. in height and have a beveled edge to which most entranceway mats on the market comply, he added.
In order to avoid trip hazards, mats should be firmly secured to prevent migration. They should also be frequently inspected to ensure they have not buckled or curled.
Kendzior also recommends the use of entranceway walk-off tile, which is installed flush with the surface of the floor. This option is a little more expensive, he acknowledged, but it adds up to small change compared with the average slip-and-fall claim of just over $5,000 (and that's for someone who doesn't require medical attention). And, he added, the costs are usually paid off in a year or two, since there are no more rental costs, and claims for slips and falls are reduced or eliminated.