Understanding Slip-and-Fall Accidents
We are going to do something a little different with this article. Before we dive in, take this short quiz to find out how much you already know about slip-and-fall accidents. We will provide the answers and tell you what this is all about after the quiz.
How many foodservice workers—people working in or using commercial kitchens—are injured in the United States each year due to a slip-and-fall accident?
• Three million
• One million
• About 500,000
How much do you believe the foodservice industry spends each year as a result of slip-and-fall accidents in kitchen areas?
• About $1 billion
• More than $2 billion
• More than $3 billion
Of the following, which do you believe most often results in a slip-and-fall accident in a kitchen area?
• Power cords and other items left on the floor
• Lack of slip-resistant finishes on the floor
• Soil and grease buildup
Whew, that wasn't so bad…or was it?
According to the National Floor Safety Institute and the U.S. Department of Labor, more than three million foodservice workers have a slip-and-fall accident every year. This is costing the foodservice industry more than $2 billion annually, an expense that is increasing at a rate of 10 percent per year. And the most common reason for these slip-and-fall accidents is not power cords or the floor's finish. Instead, it is what you probably suspected: soil and grease buildup on the floor.
Facility managers should know there are actually four types of falls that can occur at their facility. One type is referred to as a trip and fall. This happens when there is an object, often unexpected, in the walking path. A stump-and-fall or step-and-fall accident is very similar. This is when the walker encounters some type of impediment in the floor, such as a tacky area on the floor that causes him or her to lose balance. Another common cause is a floor tile that is no longer even with the rest of the floor. In this case the walker stumps as a result of the raised tile and falls.
However, the most common type of fall is a slip-and-fall accident. This is when the interface of the shoe and the floor fails to support the walker. The walker loses his or her balance and unless he or she can correct this and recover, a fall is likely. As we have learned from the quiz, this often is a result of soil and grease on the floor—which implies it was not cleaned and maintained properly, but more on cleaning and maintenance issues later.
It should also be noted that when a fall of any type occurs in a commercial foodservice area, lighting can be a contributing factor. If the lights are too bright, they can cause glare, which can actually disguise a problem area on the floor. If the lighting is too low, it can reduce the efficiency of the eye. In other words, the walker simply may not see the raised or tacky area or the soil and grease and so is not able to avoid it. To make matters worse, soil and grease often gather in grout areas, making it difficult to see no matter what the lighting conditions.
Commercial Kitchen Floors
Possibly the safest floor that can be installed in a kitchen is concrete or cement.* These floors are considered a safe surface and require little cleaning and maintenance.
However, concrete/cement is not commonly used in commercial kitchens. What is considered the floor of choice in a commercial kitchen for all types of facilities is quarry tile. Without going into too much detail, quarry tiles can be compared to a half-inch brick. They are made from a mixture of clay and other natural ingredients, and by themselves they are reasonably slip resistant.
As far as safety and helping to prevent a slip-and-fall accident from occurring, the problem lies not with the quarry tiles but with the material used to install them. In most cases, grout is used to help secure the quarry tile to the floor and connect it to surrounding tiles. This forms a bond that not only secures the tiles to the floor but also helps waterproof the floor, protecting the subfloor below the kitchen. The problem is that soil and grease tend to collect in the grout areas, and this is frequently why a slip-and-fall accident occurs.
Cleaning and Maintenance
At one time, the most common way to clean quarry tile floors in a commercial setting was to apply powerful degreasers, deck (brush) the degreaser into the tile and grout areas, hose the floor down to wash away the chemical, and then allow the floor to air dry.
This can be time consuming and, therefore, costly. Further, today we know degreasers can harm the environment and hosing down the floor can use anywhere from 9 to more than 20 gallons of water per minute.** Using this much water is simply not an option today in most areas of the country. Adding to this, the floor can take a considerable amount of time to dry, which in and of itself can result in a slip-and-fall accident.
Today, many commercial kitchen floors are simply mopped. This is a slow process and not very effective. Study after study in recent years by organizations such as the Cleaning Industry Research Institute (CIRI) indicates that mopping a floor often spreads soil over the floor instead of removing it, defeating the entire cleaning purpose.
An effective option that many commercial kitchens are adopting is referred to as a 'dispense-and-vac' system comprised of a trolley-type bucket, a brush, and an attached wet/vac. The cleaning procedure is as follows:
• Fresh and measured amounts of water/cleaning solution are applied to the floor as the bucket is walked over the tiles.
• The floor is lightly brushed, ensuring that the floor surface and the grout areas are cleaned.
• Soils and liquid are vacuumed up, leaving the floor clean and dry.
It is actually this final step that is key to the entire process. Vacuuming up the solution and moisture ensures that it, along with soils and grease, are thoroughly removed from the tile and grout. Further, the floor is dry and ready for use almost as soon as it is cleaned, enhancing safety.
So what have we learned here? First and of greatest concern, slip-and-fall accidents in commercial kitchens and foodservice areas are a serious problem in the United States and one that can easily be prevented. Most commonly it is a buildup of grease and soil that causes these falls. However, systems are now available to clean commercial kitchen floors more effectively, removing soils and grease and enhancing safety.
* Concrete and cement are actually not the same although they are often used interchangeably. Cement is actually a type of concrete, made of some different ingredients in different quantities and processed in a different manner. However, for our purposes here, we will refer to them as essentially the same.
**Depends on the diameter of the hose, from one-half inch to three-quarters inch, along with the water pressure.
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