According to ISSA, the worldwide cleaning industry association, more than three million foodservice workers and more than one million guests of foodservice facilities are injured each year as a result of slip and fall accidents. Further, a study by the National Floor Safety Institute (NFSI) indicates that the industry spends more than $2 billion annually on such injuries in terms of medical costs, absenteeism, and lost productivity and that these accidents are increasing by about 10 percent each year.*
Slip and fall accidents are certainly not a problem only within the foodservice industry. In fact, virtually all facilities from schools and offices to large and small retail stores have their share of these accidents, and just as in the foodservice industry, they appear to be on the increase. Because of this, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has proposed a new set of floor safety guidelines, which are designed to essentially raise the bar on floor safety requirements with the hope of reducing slips, falls, and other floor-related injuries.**
While the proposed guidelines, which were published in August 2013 and are still awaiting approval, they are designed primarily to address the safety of the workers in food-preparation areas, according to the NFSI, they will apply to other areas of a facility—such as dining rooms used by restaurant patrons—as well.
The proposed guidelines include several components, and two are of key importance to restaurant owners and managers.
Floor Inspections and Cleaning
The first of these regulations would require that a "qualified person" be called in to ensure floors are safe and maintained in such a way that they help prevent possible slip and fall accidents. While foodservice facilities are accustomed to having their businesses inspected by public health officials, this means a new inspector would be on the horizon. OSHA defines a qualified person, in part, as someone "capable of identifying existing or potential [floor] hazards…which may be hazardous or dangerous to employees."
Qualified floor experts already exist. They are typically called in by insurance companies after a slip and fall accident has occurred to determine a floor's condition. Under the proposed guidance, they would be called in before an accident happens, with the goal of preventing an accident from occurring in the first place.
The other significant guideline focuses on floor cleaning and maintenance. An effective custodial cleaning program can help minimize or eliminate slip and fall accidents. Well accepted in the professional cleaning industry, this fact would now be officially recognized by OSHA as well, which specifies that cleaning, whether performed by an in-house staff or by an outside contractor, be provided by personnel who are educated and trained in proper floor cleaning and maintenance. This training is now provided by NFSI and will likely be available through other organizations in the future.
The Equipment Connection
According to ISSA, when it comes to cleaning tools and equipment, there are specific steps foodservice facilities can take to help lower their risk for slip and fall accidents. The organization suggests choosing "floor cleaning and maintence products with proven slip resistant characteristics…comparable with the particular flooring surface installed." *
ISSA suggests selecting NFSI "certified" floorcare products. These have been independently tested in both the laboratory and real-world applications. If the tests indicate the products meet specific criteria, referred to as "high-traction," and can help prevent an accident, they can then be certified.
In most cases, instead of mops and buckets, the tools most commonly used to clean kitchen floors, the NFSI finds that alternative floor cleaning equipment such as spray-and-vac, dispense-and-vac, or spray-and squeegee systems that clean floors without the use of mops can better help promote floor safety. Related to this, when cleaning floors with a mop and bucket, there is always a concern that someone might slip on the floor while it is drying. The alternative cleaning equipment helps dry floor minutes after they have been cleaned.
Where We Go from Here
Janitorial distributors are now being briefed on the potential new OSHA standards, and distributors will likely prove to be good sources of information on the guidelines and how they would affect foodservice facilities. Restaurant owners and managers are advised to not be caught off guard by a slip and fall accident in their facility. The ramifications could prove more serious than ever. Fortunately, while the proposed guidelines are extensive, they could be adopted fairly easily with the right tools, training, and equipment.