Slips, trips and falls: your duty of care
To ensure a safe environment for occupants, employees and visitors, building managers need to understand and adhere to national slip resistance standards, writes DAVE COLLINS.
Commercial buildings, hotels and shopping centres face particular challenges when it comes to the slip resistance of surfaces because many areas accessible by guests, visitors and staff have high pedestrian traffic, exposing flooring materials to greater wear.
Building owners and managers have a legal duty of care and legal compliance obligations with regard to the risk of pedestrians slipping, tripping or falling on floor surfaces.
Slip resistance standards for different areas of a building
It is important for building owners and managers to understand the minimum requirements for slip resistance in various areas of their premises, according to the applicable Australian Standard.
For example, toilet facilities need a minimum P3 rating, whereas office space and conference rooms only need a P2 rating. The P rating of a surface indicates its resistance to slipping when wet – the higher the P rating, the greater the slip resistance.
The Australian Standard also covers external areas. For commercial buildings with health club facilities it is important to know that swimming pool ramps and stairs leading to water require a P5 rating, whereas pool surrounds may have a P4 rating. External car parks require a P4 rating while the minimum for undercover car parks is P3.
A degree of judgement is required for some areas. A building lobby, for example, will often have polished or vitrified porcelain-like surfaces for aesthetic reasons. This is relatively safe to walk on when dry, but during wet weather it can become slippery and unsafe. This possibility of moisture in the lobby may incur a minimum P2 or P3 requirement, whereas P1 is applicable if there’s certainty it is always dry.
Managing risk of slips, trips and falls
Conducting slip-resistance testing is important, as it will help reduce your exposure to:
- Injuries due to slips, trips or falls
- Litigation and liability claims, and
- Increased insurance premiums.
There are two major parts of slip resistance testing:
- Testing for new surfaces. Initial assessment of flooring material in the laboratory enables suppliers to certify slip resistance of a product prior to installation or delivery to site.
- Testing of existing surfaces. Ongoing monitoring of existing pedestrian surfaces by facility owners fulfils their duty of care and compliance obligations.
Ongoing monitoring is required because flooring surfaces wear from pedestrian traffic and may vary in resistance due to cleaning regimes. Regular testing of pedestrian surfaces is the main element of an appropriate risk management plan.
Accredited and independent slip resistance testing will determine if floor areas meet minimum anti-slip performance requirements, and regular testing can help to manage risks arising from wear and surface treatments such as cleaning.
For existing floor surfaces building owners and managers will generally choose in situ testing by a qualified professional using accredited and calibrated equipment by the wet pendulum test method, and/or the dry floor friction test method.
The wet pendulum test method provides customers with a slip resistance rating ranging from P0 to P5, with P5 being the highest rating possible. The dry floor friction test method provides customers with a pass or fail classification depending on the measured coefficient of friction over the test run length. This test is only valid for areas that are always considered ‘dry’.
It is recommended that an independent and National Association of Testing Authorities (NATA)-accredited service provider, who is directly engaged by the building owner or manager, conducts any testing. Testing should never be the responsibility of parties who have a natural interest in the compliance of areas for which they are responsible (for example, cleaning or refurbishment contractors).
For commercial buildings, risk management planning can be quite elaborate when it comes to considering all surface areas where duty of care and occupational safety requirements come into play, so a tailored plan is recommended for each facility.
Key recommendations include:
- Know your legal duty of care and compliance obligations.
- Understand the differing minimum standards for slip resistance of surfaces in various areas of a building. For example, office space (P2), undercover car parks (P3), and ramps and stairs leading to water (such as a swimming pool) (P5).
- When planning for refurbishment, specify that flooring materials be assessed through a NATA accredited laboratory prior to installation.
- Test flooring surfaces for slip resistance at regular intervals to understand wear and the effects of cleaning regimes.
- Directly engage a NATA accredited service provider who does not have a conflict of interest when providing test data.
Dave Collins leads QED’s asbestos management and slip resistance testing practices. He is qualified through the British Occupational Hygiene Society and has extensive experience preparing and delivering risk management plans in the built environment. Dave and his team undertake slip resistance testing of pedestrian surfaces at QED’s NATA accredited laboratory and in the field.
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