Slips and falls are a far bigger problem than many restaurant operators realize.
Slips and falls are not simply common occurrences in restaurants. They are also the leading cause of premise liability injuries. In other words, when someone falls in a public facility, often a lawsuit is not far behind.
The National Floor Safety Institute (NFSI) estimates that more than 3 million foodservice employees are injured each year while working in restaurants or commercial kitchens. In kitchen areas, some of the primary causes of these slips and falls include the following:
physical obstructions on the floor, such as an improperly placed drain cover, a folded mat, bunched carpet or clutter
employees carrying trays or stacks of plates around blind corners
wet weather conditions or water/moisture buildup on the floors
slippery floors, typically the result of water, oil, cleaning chemicals, grease, or grease buildup in tile and grout areas
poor lighting and clutter
While foodservice workers can actually do a lot to help protect themselves, such as wearing nonslip restaurant footwear, using common sense and being “safety focused,” ultimately restaurant owners and managers are responsible for protecting the safety of their staff.
While correcting fall hazards such as removing floor obstructions, stretching or relaying carpets and mats and making sure the foodservice area is well lit and clutter free are relatively easy steps to take, keeping commercial kitchen floors clean and safe can be a bit more difficult. However, because so many slips and falls are the result of slippery floors, it is a difficulty that must be addressed and rectified.
Types of Falls
Many restaurant owners/managers are unaware that there are actually four different categories of falls that can occur on their premises. To reduce the number of employee slip-and-fall accidents, it is important to understand that each category may require its own corrective measures.
The four categories are:
Trip-and-fall. A common type of fall, this occurs when we unknowingly encounter a foreign or unexpected object on the floor such as a power cord, a step or a kitchen utensil that has fallen to the floor.
Stump-and-fall. Less common than a trip-and-fall, this often occurs when we walk on an uneven floor, bump into a rug or mat or step onto a “tacky” area of a floor.
Step-and-fall. This happens when we encounter an unexpected height change in the floor, very often an unexpected step down from the main surface of the floor or into an actual hole in the floor surface.
Slip-and-fall. One of the most common types of all, this occurs when a floor is too slippery to be safely walked upon.
We should also note that a fall in a commercial kitchen does not necessarily cause an injury. The age of the victim and his or her reaction to the fall can have a lot to do with how well the person handles the fall. But, in most cases, if we land on a “fleshy” part of the body, we typically escape injury. If we land on an arm, another bony part of the body, or the head, the injury can be significantly more serious.
Because falls are so often the result of a slippery floor, restaurant owners/managers should know that there are ways to determine just how slippery a floor is. Correcting slippery conditions can protect employees from these slip-and-fall injuries.
To determine how slippery a floor is requires an evaluation of the floor’s coefficient of fraction (COF). This is actually a very simple procedure. Using COF testing equipment, a shoelike material or similar is dragged or pushed over a floor. To get an accurate reading, typically three different areas of the floor are tested. The equipment then measures the floor’s COF: 0.5 or less is considered slippery; 0.5 or more is considered safe or at least less hazardous.
COF testing equipment can be purchased, and for a busy restaurant or foodservice facility, this might be a very cost effective option. Smaller concerns may opt to hire someone to test a floor’s COF. COF testing should be done regularly using the same type of equipment. A log should be created to record the test results, when the test was conducted, what areas were tested and what rectifying steps were taken if the COF was too low. These tests can help provide proof of your facility’s safety should a slip-and-fall accident occur, as well as compliance with any OSHA and ADA guidelines.
Honing in on Floor Cleaning
The importance of proper floor cleaning in helping to prevent slip-and-fall accidents cannot be overstressed. Unfortunately, we now know that some traditional floor-cleaning methods, specifically mops and buckets, may be contributing to these kinds of accidents. The reason for this is that mops can actually spread soils, contaminants, even soap residue from one area of the floor to another, where it can build up and cause hazardous conditions.
While it did not happen in a restaurant kitchen, the following can serve as a case in point. A woman walking into a fast-food restaurant slipped, fell and was injured. She filed a lawsuit against the restaurant, which the fast-food outlet fought, claiming the floor had recently been mopped and cleaned and that the floor installed was specially designed to help prevent slips and falls from occurring.
While the floor installed was considered safe and did have a high COF, frequent mopping of the floor had left detergent and soiled solution residue in the pores and grout of the floor. It was later determined that this buildup caused an unsafe condition and the fast-food restaurant was held liable for damages.
In a large facility, such as a shopping center, such conditions can be eliminated by using an automatic scrubber that scrubs, rinses and then dries the floor. Such equipment is typically too big for a commercial kitchen, however. Now if mops and buckets are no longer a viable substitute, what is?
One cost-effective alternative floor-cleaning method eliminates the need for mops. Cleaning crews use a trolley-bucket system that dispenses fresh cleaning solution directly onto a floor’s surface. This ensures that the solution stays clean and is not spreading contaminants. The floor can then be brushed to agitate and loosen grease and soils, and then is vacuumed using the machine’s wet/vac. All solution and soils are removed so that they do not collect in grout or the pores of the floor, leaving the surface safe to walk on.
Another alternative, though more costly, is the use of professional steam vapor equipment. The steamer may generate temperatures as high as 300°F inside the boiler to essentially melt and dissolve grease and soils on the floor. Some agitation of the floor, just as with the trolley-bucket system just discussed, may be necessary. Further, because of the high heat, proper training is typically needed to make sure the equipment is used safely.
With more than 3 million food-service workers injured each year due to slips and falls, this is obviously an issue restaurant owners/managers must take seriously. Fortunately, as discussed here, there are cost-efficient ways to reduce these numbers and keep their workers safe.
Robert Kravitz is a former building service contractor and now a writer for the professional cleaning, education, healthcare, and hospitality industries. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.