Walk Softly - And Carry a Walkway Tribometer!

How safe are your walkways? A remarkable percentage of accidents are "slip and fall" events. The cost to industry is staggering in terms of medical costs, rehabilitation costs, reduced productivity, legal costs, insurance etc. Bottom line, it costs us billions.

OSHA provides lots of requirements and guidance for preventing slip and fall accidents. You know the routine — keep walkways free of clutter, clean up spills immediately, post “wet floor sign” to warn people of a high risk situation — all good and sound advice. Controlling the safety of plant floor walkways is foundational. However, we have a control system — with associated OSHA and related requirements — but our control system lacks a feedback mechanism, which is required to assure that our control measures are effective. Managing the slipperiness of walkways is no exception.

Fortunately, there are ways to measure the slipperiness of a walkway using instruments called walkway tribometers. Tribology is the science and technology associated with surfaces in relative motion.  It includes the fields of friction, wear and lubrication. Sometimes, we want to decrease friction to reduce wear. In the case of walkways, we want to increase friction to improve surefootedness and reduce the risk of accidents. Walkway tribometers report the coefficient of friction (COF) for a walkway surface. The lower the coefficient of friction, the more slippery the walkway — which in turn, increases your risk of a slip and fall accident. It’s pretty simple, really.  Keep the COF high to keep your risk of a slip and fall accident low.

It’s not enough to select high COF surface materials and treatments and keep them free of debris, water, oil etc, and mark slippery areas with signs.  You have to measure. Walkways are wearing surfaces. Over time, walkways with heavy traffic wear down and when they wear, they become slippery. When they become slippery, your risk of a slip and fall accident increases. Naturally, the areas with the heaviest traffic suffer the highest wear rates and present the highest risk for a slip and fall accident. You need to monitor these high traffic areas on a regualr basis and take action to treat, replace or perform maintenance on  them when they’ve been worn down to the danger point. But without measurement, you have to guess about the danger point.

If you’re not measuring the slipperiness of your high risk and hi traffic areas, you’re putting your company at risk in two ways. First, you’re failing to proactively control one of the greatest risks to your business — slip and fall accidents. Second, if your company experiences an unfortuante slip and fall accident, you may be forced to enter the courtroom to argue your case — without measurable data confirming that you’ve diligiently attempted to mange the COF of your walkways. That leaves you in the uncomfortable situation of arguing your case on policy and conjecture — but without actual data. Data is the difference between deciding and guessing. I don’t know about you, but if I have to go to court, I want to carry a pile of quantitative, indisputable data and trends from calibrated instruments that prove my diligence in managing the safety of my walkways. But, hey, that’s just me — it’s your choice.

I’d love to hear your views about managing plant safety and reliability at the foundational level, by managing the safety of our walkways.