Preventing Slips, Trips and Falls in Restaurants

By: Brad Von Rueden, Risk Control Consultant

Have you ever lost traction while driving on a wet road? Your car’s nervous behavior as the wheels spin and slide about the road’s surface can be frightening.  Traction is the existing friction occurring between two surfaces, such as the road and your tires.

Traction also exists in our world of walkway surfaces.  Slips, Trips & Falls are among leading accidents affecting General Liability and Workers’ Compensation insurance.  A major cause of STF accidents involves low traction occurring between a person’s footwear and the floor.  It is estimated that 25% of slips are related to footwear choices, 25% are due to physical and mental disposition and 50% are attributed to the floor.  Restaurants may control up to one-half of their patron’s slip-related falls.

Many restaurants have grouted tile floors creating low friction surfaces due to poor cleaning practices. These surfaces may become coated with contaminants that lower the Static Coefficient of Friction (a ratio between the floor’s resistance to slipping versus a person’s footstep).  As the grout lines swell with crud, their natural water channeling ability is replaced with a slippery substance.  When activated with liquids, it may spread onto a tile’s surface, increasing fall potential.

Other STF causes include food and beverage spills, ice, weather, lack of proper floor mats, improper use of wet floor signs, and creating wet floor conditions through broad area mopping and allowing the moisture to air-dry.  Keep patrons from wet floors by cordoning off areas with chairs, wet floor signs, cones, or caution tape. The use of deck brushes to deep clean, and dual cavity mop buckets to separate fresh from dirty cleaning solution, help the cleaning process.

The other side of STF’s are trips, that are forward falls (opposed to slips that are backwards or sideways). Trips occur due to the momentary interruption of one’s gait by an obstruction or irregularity in a walkway surface.  Inside trips may be due to floor mats containing low friction backing or curled edges, wet floor signs, chairs in aisle spaces, mop buckets left out or materials in walkways.

Exterior trips are often due to parking lot and sidewalk conditions.  Pavement cracks and potholes, especially when hidden beneath rainwater, are hazardous. Sidewalks with raised adjoining slabs are notorious for tripping and falling.  According to ASTM International, F1637 5.2.2 changes in levels between ¼ inch (6mm) and ½ inch (12mm) shall be beveled with a slope no greater than 1:2 (rise:run). Other hazards include landscape, i.e., poorly fitted pavers, protruding sprinkler heads and edging.

Prevention is possible.  Slips can be prevented through proactive services, like learning your floor tiles SCOF score.  Instead of rubbing one’s shoe across a tile to estimate friction, use a Tribometer (slip meter) and a Walkway Auditor to measure performance against national standards.  The recommendations of SCOF testing may be professional cleaning, an approved slip treatment or improvements in floor maintenance tools and practices.  External trip hazard prevention begins with identification.  An auditing checklist can help; or solicit the experience of a Walkway Auditor.