We have all slipped and fallen at some point in our lives and know the horrifying feeling of an uncontrolled fall. Each year more than 8 million Americans will seek emergency room treatment for an accidental fall, 33,000 of which will die. Slips, trips, and falls are the leading cause of both guest and employee injuries in the retail industry and are estimated to cost the industry more than $20 billion a year. However, many property owners don’t realize just how slippery their floors are until someone slips and falls.
The Elderly Are Most Vulnerable
According to the National Safety Council, falls are the leading cause of accidental injury and death for the elderly, and with 10,000 baby boomers retiring each day, the slip, trip, and fall “problem” will soon become an epidemic—one that retailers will have to immediately begin to address.
Help Has Arrived
According to the National Floor Safety Institute (NFSI), 55 percent of slips, trips, and falls are caused by a hazardous walkway; however, up until the development of recent walkway safety standards, property owners had no way to measure the safety of their floors. In 2009, a series of new walkway safety standards emerged that can now help retailers turn the tide.
In 2006, the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) accredited the National Floor Safety Institute (NFSI) as an ANSI standards developer, and since 2009 they have published five new walkway safety standards. The ANSI/NFSI B101.1 and B101.3 wet coefficient of friction (COF) test methods along with the ANSI/NFSI B101.6 entranceway floor mat standard can serve as important tools for retailers to measure the slip-and-trip-related risks of their stores. The B101.1 and B101.3 standards categorize COF in three traction or risk ranges: low, moderate, or high traction. Retailers can measure the slip risk of their floors and take preventative action before a slip-and-fall event occurs. The results have already proven to be successful.
In 2015, the CNA Insurance Company released a study correlating same-store floor slip resistance to recorded claims. The study was performed in a 362-unit retail franchise whereby 112 of their floors were tested over a multiyear time period per the ANSI/NFSI B101.1 wet static COF standard. What they found was that 87 percent of all slip-and-fall claims took place on low to moderate traction surfaces, while only 13 percent of claims occurred on high-traction floors. This research bolstered past clinical studies that revealed maintaining your floors in the high-traction range can prevent up to 90 percent of slip-related claims.
Since their publication, the new ANSI/NFSI B101 walkway safety standards are being used by a growing number of insurers and retailers as a risk management tool and are now serving as a basis by which they construct their walkway safety policies and procedures.
How Will These New Standards Affect You?
With the publication of these nationally recognized industry consensus standards, retailers can now be held liable for the safety (slip resistance) of their walkways, and with the recent development of a new class of robotic walkway slip resistance testers (tribometers), measuring the slip risk of your floors is now simple, fast, and affordable.
Don’t be fooled by the voluntary use of these standards. A property owner’s choice to comply or not to comply will certainly play a bigger role in the outcome of a slip-and-fall lawsuit. Companies that are seen by the court as being in compliance will find their legal defenses bolstered. Those who don’t may be seen as negligent and are at greater risk of losing their cases.
It has been my experience that many property owners consciously choose not to test their walkways, fearing negative results. They believe that once such information is known, they will have to take corrective action and spend unbudgeted money. Also, the ever-present fear that their slip resistance test results could be discoverable acts is a further disincentive. In the end, many simply accept the cost of slips, trips, and falls as a cost of doing business, whereby a conscious choice is made to pay the ever-growing number of claims and pass the cost along to the consumer.
Some property owners often chose a strategy of “intentional ignorance,” whereby they claim no prior knowledge of their walkways being slippery. And even if they are slippery, they post wet floor signs all day believing this fulfills their duty and protects them from liability in the event of a slip and fall. Needless to say, this approach has been a proven failure and may have contributed to more slip-and-trip-related claims.
The retail slip-and-fall problem is serious and getting worse. Baby boomers make up a large and growing part of retail customer traffic, and with that comes an increased rate of slips, trips, and falls. The safety genie is out of the bottle. With the recent introduction of the ANSI/NFSI B101 walkway safety standards coupled with portable measuring devices, retailers will now be expected to act to ensure that their floors are safe. Are you prepared?