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Risky Business: The Cost of Unsafe Floors

New standards aim to reduce slip and fall incidents in foodservice establishments

By David Collette, Cintas Corporation


A Texas woman was recently awarded $5.67 million by a U.S. District Court for injuries sustained in a slip and fall accident at a major fast food restaurant chain in Maui. Her attorney claims that the woman stood up from the table and slipped on a section of floor where something had previously spilled. During the trial, he argued that “the restaurant’s overall cleaning practice was not good.”

The accident occurred on November 25, 2007. The woman slipped and fell on her buttocks, crushing a vertebra in her lower back. She has since undergone two surgeries and continues to suffer chronic pain, requiring her to use a wheelchair. She has also been unable to return to work. The District Court awarded the woman $2.67 million for past and future medical expenses, lost wages and retirement benefits. It also awarded her $3 million for suffering and a decreased quality of life.

Unclean and unsafe floors are the cause of approximately 50 percent of slip and fall accidents in foodservice establishments, followed by: inappropriate footwear, fraudulent claims, inadequate hazard identification and insufficient employee training. In addition to causing injury to restaurant staff or patrons, slip and fall accidents can cost restaurant owners and operators thousands – or millions—of dollars in legal fees and settlements. They can also result in a public relations nightmare that can cast a lasting shadow over an organization for years.

To help prevent slip and fall accidents, foodservice operators have long been encouraged to implement a program that addresses spills immediately and removes other potential hazards. However, many initiatives don’t go far enough, and as a result, standards organizations and legislative authorities are looking to improve regulations to reduce incidents. To mitigate risk from injuries and lawsuits, foodservice operators need to implement a comprehensive program that takes into account all contributors to a slip and fall including floor type, traction treatment, cleaning methods and maintenance frequency.

Changing Standards: Grounds for Litigation

Hoping to reduce slip and fall incidents and injury rates, occupational safety groups and standards organizations are looking to enhance floor safety regulations. For example, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recently partnered with the Restaurant Opportunities Center, a non-profit group dedicated to winning improved conditions for restaurant workers and raising public recognition of restaurant workers’ contributions. According to a press release, the partnership is designed to “help reduce and prevent worker exposures to slip, trip and fall, and cut and burn hazards.”

OSHA is not the only organization targeting slips and falls. The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) is in the process of releasing a set of standards to help improve the guidelines governing slips and falls.

These standards have implications for foodservice operators who don’t have safe floor programs in place, because it offers leverage for plaintiffs and prosecutors in slip and fall claims. If foodservice operators do not show due diligence in implementing a program to protect workers and patrons from a slip and fall accident, it is easier for a plaintiff to demonstrate negligence.

ANSI standards are helping define how businesses should approach their safe floor program. The first standard, B101.1, was released in 2009 and established the measurement procedure and traction ranges required to remediate walkway surfaces. Updated standards that identify the floor cleaners and treatments or specify the installation, inspection, care and maintenance of entrance mats and runners, have either been released or are scheduled for release in 2012.

“It can behoove foodservice operators to at least be aware of the new standards,” said Russ Kendzior, President of the National Floor Safety Institute (NFSI). “They establish the specific criteria and protocol needed to not only test the traction of floors, but also the components necessary to develop and maintain a program that helps reduce the opportunity of slips and falls from happening.”

Developing a Safe Floor Program

While the design of a kitchen and workflow of the foodservice operations play a critical part in the safety of a floor, ongoing maintenance procedures play an equally important role in protecting employees and guests. Floors might start out clean at the start of the shift, but by the end of the night, soil – largely grease, oil or food residue—is tracked from the kitchen throughout many areas in the restaurant. This soil, when pushed into semi-porous substrates such as granite or tile, can create a slippery surface which is conducive to slips and falls.

“Research shows that the single most important factor in determining the slip resistance of a floor is how it’s cleaned and maintained – not the floor’s type, finish or cleaner,” said Dave Ludwin, General and Products Liability Risk Control Director at CNA. “Consequently, foodservice operators need to make sure they have the right program in place to protect their employees and reduce their exposure to potential liability claims.”

A safe floor program involves three essential steps:

  1. Protect. Mats act as the first line of defense in buildings by capturing dirt and water before it enters the facility. Strategically place mats throughout the restaurant to capture dirt and water and reduce slips and falls. At entrances, combine rubber scraper mats outside of the building with carpet mats inside to reduce the amount of water, dirt and contaminants tracked into the facility. Utilize mat placement by identifying the additional floor zones where mats are beneficial; high-risk, high-traffic and productivity zones.

    Limit tracking of interior soil by placing matting in critical locations such as expo areas or in areas leading from the kitchen to dining areas. This helps prevent common foodservice materials such as grease, oil or other organic matter from building up throughout guest areas, improving image and limiting hazards.

    The National Floor Safety Institute (NFSI) tests mats in laboratory and “real world” settings to ensure mats meet the highest safety standards. Select mats that are certified “High Traction” by the NFSI to reduce the risk of slips, trips and falls.

  2. Maintain. Daily floor maintenance is essential to a clean and safe foodservice operation. Dedicate one mop to each area within the restaurant – one mop and bucket each for kitchen, dining and restroom areas. This helps further reduce the chance for cross contamination. Before cleaning, also make sure the tools are clean. A dirty mop fails to remove dirt and increases the risk of cross contamination between departments.

    However, damp or wet mopping by itself doesn’t clean a floor. Agitation using deck brushing or other tools that work with a mop (including an autoscrubber for larger areas) is important to keep surfactants and soils from building up on the floor. In addition, proper dilution is essential to ensuring floor care chemicals work properly. Many foodservice operators use wall dispensing units that properly dilute chemicals and ensure there isn’t an excess or lack of chemical. Provide ongoing training so employees know how to properly clean floors and reinforce cleaning frequencies with checklists so other team members know exactly when floors were last cleaned.

  3. Deep Clean. Daily vacuuming and mopping reduces particulates in flooring, but they fail to capture and remove all contaminants. Floors become worn out over time, and grout lines that were once grey become black from buildup.

    Periodic deep cleanings revive floors to enhance the image of the business and protect staff and patrons. By combining temperature, agitation, chemicals, time and extraction, deep cleaning removes all dry particulate soil and residue left behind by conventional methods. With restored floors, foodservice operators promote a positive image for everyone who enters the building and demonstrate a commitment to cleanliness and safety. Restorative cleaning can also be combined with a traction treatment, particularly with quarry tiles, to increase the traction by removing surface polishing of the tile due to foot traffic and rejuvenating the coefficient of friction of the tile.

Risky Business

A slip and fall accident can happen instantly and without warning, yet it will likely leave an indelible mark on the business for years down the road. Injury, lawsuits, negative publicity and a tarnished reputation are just a few of the implications that come along with a slip and fall accident.

To mitigate these risks, foodservice operators are looking to protect their business – and their staff and patrons – with a safe floor program. By understanding new standards and establishing protocol to protect, maintain and deep clean floors, foodservice professionals can reduce the risk of a slip and fall accident – and its long-term impact.

David Collette is Director of Marketing and Strategy for Cintas Foodservice. For more information on Cintas’ safe floor program for foodservice, go to www.cintas.com/foodservice. To download its recent safe floor webinar, go to http://www.cintas.com/safefloorwebinar/.

Sidebar: The Eight Commandments of Safe Floors

  1. Select the best floor material for the area. Consider high traction floor surfaces for areas where water or grease might gather, such as around dishwashers or grill areas.

  2. Identify the right cleaner for the job. Chemicals used to clean grease might not be as effective at cleaning soils with fatty acids, which could result in a slippery surface. Use the proper cleaner for the application.

  3. Implement floor cleaning tools and supplies. Two chamber mop buckets ensure the floor is always cleaned with a clean water and chemical solution. Surface agitation tools must be used to provide necessary scrubbing action to break soil bonds--further reducing opportunities for slip and fall hazards.

  4. Follow manufacturer guidelines. Review the recommended dilution ratios and proper procedures for using cleaning chemicals and equipment. An automated chemical dispensing system will automatically create the proper dilution for optimal cleaning, reduced expense and improved employee safety.

  5. Develop a written protocol for floor maintenance. For consistency in the floor cleaning program, outline the program in writing so everyone knows exactly how the floor should be cleaned throughout different parts of the restaurant.

  6. Establish a floor cleaning schedule. Identify frequencies for all levels of floor cleaning – from daily maintenance procedures to deep cleaning.

  7. Train staff on floor cleaning protocol. Establish procedures for placing and cleaning matting, cleaning floors and maintaining equipment. If an automated chemical dispensing system is not available, be sure to include training on the proper dilution and handling of chemicals.

  8. Follow up to ensure protocol is followed and hold staff accountable. Conduct scheduled and unannounced audits to inspect floor cleanliness and determine if staff members follow the proper procedures.