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Floor Slip Resistance…It’s a Numbers Game
By Debby Davis
Published: 06/15/2015

Floor cleaner done Most correctional facility administrators have heard the term “slip resistant” when it comes to floor care. It typically refers to the finish applied to the floor. On the label, the manufacturer will provide some information about how slip resistant the finish is and they may use the term coefficient of friction (COF).

It is very important that administrators understand what COF is and how it is determined. A working knowledge is needed to provide safe floors for both inmates and staff, because the COF can vary depending on how a specific floor surface area is used. First, let’s clarify what COF is.

Back in the 1930s cleaning workers developed a “homemade” test to see how slippery a floor was after a finish (wax) had been applied. Using a rudimentary scale, they dragged a “beanbag” filled with ten pounds of beans over the floor. If there was more than six pounds of drag, the floor was considered safe. If there was less than six pounds, it was considered slippery, with the potential for a slip-and-fall accident to occur. Essentially what the beanbag tested for was the resistance to movement between two objects…the beanbag and the floor.

Believe it or not, we are essentially doing the same thing today but instead of beanbags, small and very accurate machines have been developed to test how slippery a floor is. In most cases, the desired COF is 0.5. A lower COF, 0.3 for instance, would be considered slippery and a higher number would indicate greater resistance. However, we do not want the COF too high, then the floor can become sticky and tacky and can actually cause a slip-and-fall accident, exactly what we are trying to prevent.

So does this mean that as long as administrators select floor finish and related products with a COF of 0.5 they are meeting their obligation to provide a safe walking surface for staff and inmates? Not necessarily. The number of people walking on the floor can impact how safe the floor is and how high the COF should be.

For instance, let’s say your correctional facility has a library used by about 50 people per day. As with any library, people come in, browse around, find something to read or look at, and then sit down. They are moving slowly, in fact often just standing, and then sitting.

But right outside our imaginary library is a busy walkway that serves as many as 1,000 people per day. There is considerable traffic and while people are not running, they are walking briskly. Additionally, our walkway includes turns both right and left and occasionally walkers must stop suddenly. In such cases, a floor finish with a higher COF, 0.6 to as high as 0.8, may be necessary to help prevent a slip-and-fall accident.

Other Factors

So now we know that in heavily trafficked areas of a correctional facility a floor finish with a higher COF is probably needed. But administrators should know that just because the proper finish has been selected, the potential for an accident still exists. Condensation on a cold floor, leaks from pipes, spills from drinks, and the mop water actually used to clean up spills and soils can all contribute to a slip-and-fall accident.

This is when proper and effective cleaning comes in. Whenever possible, administrators in a correctional facility should limit the use of mops and buckets to clean floors. The problem is that the process of mopping the floor eventually spreads contaminants over the floor as the mop and cleaning solution become soiled. “In general, the presence of contaminants [on the floor] will reduce the amount of slip resistance of the floor,” says Dr. Malcom Bailey, a leading expert on slip testing and accident prevention. “[The reason for this] is because it provides a lubricating effect between the shoe and the floor.”

To avoid this problem, administrators are encouraged to clean floors with automatic scrubbers. Scrubbers, as they are typically called, now come in a variety of sizes to fit different sized locations and floor cleaning needs. They apply cleaning solution to the floor, gently scrub to loosen and remove soils, vacuum up the moisture and contaminants, plus an integrated squeegee dries the floor so there are no puddles left behind. Of course, the big benefit of an automatic scrubber is that it is so much faster – three times faster or more – than mopping, but it is also much more effective at removing contaminants, leaving the floor cleaner and safer.*

What we have discussed may seem a bit complicated but it really is not. Administrators simply need to identify which floors receive the most foot traffic and ensure the finish applied on those floors has a slightly higher COF than that applied to floors used less frequently and with less traffic. But in either case, do not forget how important cleaning is. Proper floor care is essential to keeping a facility safe and the selection of the correct products and equipment is the first step in that process.

*According to ISSA, the worldwide cleaning association, someone using a 16-ounce mop can clean and rinse about 1,700 square feet per hour; using a 13 inch automatic scrubber, that jumps to 4,500 square feet per hour.

Debby Davis is the product manager for Powr-Flite, a leading manufacturer of floor care equipment. Davis has extensive experience in the professional cleaning industry, especially in the area of floor care. She may be reached at d.davis@powr-flite.com


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