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Reducing slips, trips and falls in the retail environment


By Dave Mesko, [email protected]

It’s a shopper’s market. Today, consumers have an array of options when it comes to shopping and no longer have to remain loyal to one store. In order to grow and sustain loyal customers, it’s important that retailers provide a safe environment for shoppers.

Slips, trips and falls can cost a retailer much more than money; they can cost public trust and damage your brand. According the National Safety Council, more than 9 million disabling slips and falls occur each year, costing an average of $20,953. More shockingly, slips and falls are one of the leading causes of accidental death in the United States. There are many factors that can contribute to such injuries in the retail environment including slippery floors caused by inclement weather, spills and inadequate mopping. Other factors such as poor lighting and obstructions in walkways contribute as well. While many people have the attitude that “accidents happen,” retailers can take preventative measures to protect customers, employees and their business by implementing a safe floor plan.

Implement a mat system

The first step in creating a slip-free environment is to implement a mat system. The National Floor Safety Institute (NFSI) estimates that more than 80% of slip-and-fall accidents take place on wet surfaces, so it is important to capture moisture throughout your store with mats. The essential first line of defense is to have maximum coverage at the entrance as the majority of dirt and moisture enters through the door. According to ISSA, most of the dirt found within a building is tracked in on people’s shoes, and more than 85% of the dirt would not enter the building if entry mats were properly placed and maintained. The more shoppers walk on the mat, the more unwanted contaminants are captured before having a chance to enter store. Retailers can complement their entrance mats by placing rubber mats, also known as scraper mats, outside to serve as an additional barrier as well.

While combating dirt at the entrance is the highest priority, a comprehensive mat system covers all high-risk areas in an establishment. People slip on wet floors, so it is important to place mats in all areas that could become slick. For instance, a grocer will want to place mats in the produce section where the misters spray and under fruits and vegetables, such as grapes, that can become a hazard if squashed. Transition areas such as the walkway between the back room and the main store should be protected as well to keep dust and other particles from spreading throughout the store. The best way to identify and proactively protect all high-risk areas is to request a walk-through consultation from a qualified vendor to ensure your program will provide maximum protection.

To rent or buy?

When implementing a mat program you have the option to rent or buy. The main difference is the quality of mats and the service component. Before implementing a program, it’s important to verify the mats are certified “High Traction” by the NFSI. This certifies the mats have proven slip-resistant characteristics and have passed a laboratory test and a “real world” test to reduce slips, trips and falls. Unfortunately, many direct sale companies do not test their mats due to cost, so it is important to check.

Another critical factor to consider is service level. In order for your program to be truly effective, contaminants such as water, dirt and grease that are captured by the mats must be removed from the facility. By renting from a facility services provider, your mats will be professionally cleaned on a routine basis to maximize performance. Further, you have the option to increase service frequencies and the amount of mats during the rainy season or winter for more protection. However, if you buy the mats, the cleaning is up to you and regular vacuuming does not clean a mat as deeply or thoroughly as a laundry service. In fact, according to Georgia State University, only 10% of dirt is removed from mats with a vacuum cleaner. If mats are not cleaned thoroughly on a regular basis, they will become saturated with contaminants and will ultimately spread them across your facility creating more slip and fall hazards.

Maintain floors on a regular basis

Beyond a matting system, it’s important for retailers to maintain floors on a daily basis by pairing clean tools such as mops with the right cleaning chemicals for different floor surfaces. By designating clean mops for specific areas, organizations can prevent cross contamination between departments. For example, mops used to clean restroom floors should not be used to clean floors in the produce department. This not only keeps floors clean and safe, but enhances the image of the store making the shopping experience more enjoyable. Retailers should also invest in periodic deep cleaning services that remove dirt, break down build-up and extract all contaminants from grout lines, tile and carpeted areas throughout the building. Regular maintenance not only keeps surfaces safe but enables retailers to extend the life of their flooring as well.

Reducing risk using a team approach

When rolling out your safe floor plan, it’s important to communicate the specifics to all employees and provide necessary training to ensure procedures and processes are understood and executed correctly. Retailers should also anticipate spills and have a plan in place to proactively reduce risk. All spills should be cleaned immediately and staff should place proper signage around the affected area to warn patrons that the floor is wet. As spills cannot be controlled, retailers should designate a few employees to monitor the store and alert cleaning staff immediately if they spot any hazards. Further, larger retailers may want to assign greeters who can also assist in making sure entrance mats do not get rolled up to eliminate trips and alert the cleaning staff if there is excess water around the entryway. Retailers can also protect customers by having adequate lighting in all areas and enforcing a zero tolerance policy on leaving unattended items in walkways.

As retailers continue to vie for customers, protecting floors is one way to provide shoppers with a safe and satisfying shopping experience. Not only will it translate into dollars saved from a reduction in slips and falls claims, it will also enhance your store’s image and atmosphere.

Dave Mesko is senior director of marketing for Cintas Facility Service, which offers a wide range of solutions that enable businesses to build their image and increase profitability and productivity. For more information, please visit Dave Mesko can be reached at [email protected].

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