Don’t slip up on wet environments

Wet environments such as shower rooms, bathrooms and toilets offer plenty of challenges when it comes to health and safety. David Cockhead, Altro’s Quality and Compliance Advisor, outlines key considerations to prevent slips in areas where people are often at their most vulnerable.

Most buildings have wet environments that will be used by a wide variety of people. Staff who look after residents or patients in wet environments, as well as cleaners, can be at risk of slipping and the law says they need to be protected. Whilst the use of safety flooring in wet environments is now commonplace, many people are unaware that not all products are up to the demands of these challenging areas.

The first step in ensuring you specify the right flooring, is to understand how manufacturers test and measure slip-resistance. Across the world safety flooring is tested in various ways. The standard Pendulum Test (BS 7976) is often used in the UK. The ‘pendulum’ is a dummy heel that is swung over a set area of flooring in a controlled manner to simulate slipping on a wet floor. The slipperiness of the flooring has a direct and measurable effect on the pendulum value. Flooring that achieves a wet result of Pendulum Test Value ≥36 has a low slip potential, and translates to a 1 in a million chance of slipping.

The Ramp Test is also widely used. R9-R13 values are based on angle measurements of a motor oil-covered ramp that an operator walks on. The angle at which the operator slips forms the R value. Because the most common contaminant on floors is water, using motor oil doesn’t give a true representation of what happens in real life situations. For the barefoot version of the test (DIN 51097), the ramp is covered in water.

However, wet environments are not just about water; we need to consider what we use in those areas, including shampoo and shower gel. The slip risks these contaminants create are potentially dangerous and could cause serious accidents.

We’ve carried out tests using real world contaminants, which show in stark detail the risks involved in making the wrong flooring choice. We tested our specialist safety flooring, developed for use in wet environments, for both shoe and bare foot use, and our standard, industry-leading general safety flooring. The table shows how these performed with different real world wet environment contaminants.

The results show that safety flooring is not enough for wet environments; specialist products that are fit for purpose must be specified.

Swimming Pool Altro PiscesAnother factor to consider when reviewing manufacturers’ slip resistance ratings is whether the slip resistance is sustained for the lifetime of the product. Some manufacturers send ex-factory materials to independent test houses to certify that their products are slip resistant. This means the results can be based on flooring that has a thin coating or emboss which was applied to increase the level of slip resistance for the test. Altro, and some other British safety flooring manufacturers, believe that these thin levels of slip resistance can wear off in just a few months. And this leaves a much less slip-resistant surface which could fall significantly below the HSE minimum recommended levels.

Finally, consider ongoing cleaning and maintenance of the flooring. No one wants to wash, swim or change in a dirty environment, but what about the contamination that’s not obvious?

If safety flooring isn’t cleaned properly, a hazardous level of dirt and contaminant build-up can accumulate on the surface, again potentially increasing the risk of a slip to as high as one in twenty. What’s more, a build-up of bacteria can lead to mould growth, the effects of which range from exacerbating allergies to respiratory problems. Older people and children, as well as those with existing health issues, can be particularly affected by this.

Look for flooring with technology that makes it easier to clean, and choose flooring without studs as this is ensures there is nowhere for limescale to build up.
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