Facility managers are responsible for the strategic and operational management of buildings and facilities in public and private companies. They ensure the effective and efficient operation of the facility and create and maintain safe and productive environments for occupants. This includes the important responsibility of ensuring that facilities meet health and safety requirements and comply with local regulations.
Unsafe floor conditions and lack of awareness of risks and hazards are the key factors that generally lead to slip, trip and fall accidents. To help prevent such accidents it is essential for facility managers to implement floor safety policies. However, if the policies and solutions do not meet local regulations and standards, they are not reinforced by trained employees or the implemented solutions do not effectively control the hazard, then that policy means very little and will unlikely hold up in a legal situation. Ineffective floor safety strategies are continuing to be costly to both workers and company owners.
As a result, standards organisations and legislative authorities such as Australian Standards and Building Codes of Australia have reviewed and improved regulations and guidelines to reduce the number of incidents. To help prevent devastating injuries and ensuing lawsuits, facility managers must implement comprehensive programs based on these guidelines that take into account all slip, trip and fall hazards, including floor type, slip resistance, matting placement, cleaning methods and maintenance frequency. While designing these solutions facility managers also need to consider building aesthetics, cost and sustainability.
Facility managers are faced with challenges in ensuring compliance with the National Construction Codes for slip resistance, Work Health and Safety Act 2011 and the need to mitigate the risk of public liability costs. All the while, it is essential to maintain an aesthetically pleasing environment at a reasonable cost. Facility managers need to be familiar with the new codes and classifications in them, or have competent advisers to enable them to meet these challenges.
The new Standards AS4586-2013 and AS4663-2013 set out clearly how to classify and measure the slip resistance value (SRV) of surface materials. The Standards Australia Handbook HB 198-2014 is a valuable resource that can guide the facility manager through the application of the classifications obtained through the above Standards, the process of evaluating new flooring materials or the slip risk status of existing flooring.
The Work Health and Safety Act 2011 states: floors and other surfaces are designed, installed and maintained to allow work to be carried out without risk to health and safety (Chapt 3, Divi 2, 40 [c]). This means that floors should be inspected regularly and maintained to eliminate slip and trip hazards. Common examples of hazards include trailing cables, uneven edges or broken surfaces, gratings or covers, loose mats or carpet tiles. Floor surfaces require sufficient grip to prevent slipping, especially in areas that may become wet or contaminated. Cleaning methods should also take into account the potential for slips, which may be increased by the use of some cleaning agents. In order to manage these hazards and risks under the WHS (Work Health Safety) regulations, a duty holder should follow these codes of practice:
- Identify potential hazards that could give rise to the risk and the level of exposure of people to a hazard; e.g. uneven or slippery floors. Eliminate the risk so far as is reasonably feasible. Use matting in wet areas and traction tape on ramps.
- If it is not feasible to eliminate the risk, minimise the risk as much as possible by implementing control measures in accordance with the hierarchy of control. Use hazard warning tapes, barricades and signage.
- Maintain the implemented control measure so that it remains effective. Utilise the Safer Floors Program and trained employees.
- Review, and if necessary revise, risk control measures to maintain a work environment that is without risks to health and safety. Document safety procedures, record keeping etc.
New options are available or becoming available with regard to floor surface materials, coatings and films to help facilities meet the required SRV where currently they do not. These new options can provide slip risk mitigation and at the same time retain many of the desirable aesthetic qualities of traditional surfaces. In addition they can decrease risks to employee health through reduced need to use hazardous chemicals and manage operational costs by saving time and labour.
With time, high pedestrian traffic, cleaning systems, applied coatings and patterns of wear may affect the slip resistance properties of floor surfaces. Inspection and testing of the floor surface should be conducted at regular intervals as part of a continual maintenance program.
Ranmalee De Silva is the application engineering specialist for the Cleaning and Workplace Safety section of the Commercial Solutions Division of 3M Australia and 3M New Zealand. She provides technical support to the business and helps customers find solutions for their floor safety, cleaning and spill management. Ranmalee is involved in developing new products and improving or extending the applications of existing ones. The Cleaning and Workplace Safety portfolio includes notable 3M Brands such as Scotchgard and ScotchBrite.