4Earth Solutions highlight why many floors are still being mis-sold, some architects and designers unintentionally mis-specify and flooring contractors, through no fault of their own, sometimes install floors that are not all that they should be!
A little over two years ago we published an article that was intended to highlight the issue of slip resistance and the lack of knowledge of those, who at the time, we thought should know better.
In the article we stated that there were building managers who turn a blind eye to the high risk posed when their floors became wet, preferring to take their chances. There were others we had met who thought a “wet floor” sign would exonerate their organisation from prosecution and a hefty compensation payout, should someone slip and injure themselves.
Although we still meet with people that know they have an issue and fail to take the necessary measures to reduce risk, we have discovered a far greater issue.
A problem that as well as ruining the lives of many, every year, resulted in 35 members of the public, losing their lives, in 2013.
The law in the United Kingdom states that a floor should not be slippery as to cause danger to a person. It does not state how that danger is measured.
Quite often it is not until someone slips on a wet (or contaminated) floor and decides to pursue a no win no fee compensation claim or the Environmental Health Officer or HSE get involved, that a building owner, manager or even in a few cases, a Health and Safety Consultant find out exactly how the law will be interpreted.
It is often at this point that a very expensive discovery is made by all concerned, with the exception of the person who can look forward to the inevitable and usually significant payout in their favour.
Allow me to elaborate.
The injured party contacts a solicitor (Google “Slip accident compensation UK” for any amount of No win, No fee lawyers)
One of the early questions that a solicitor will ask is: “What is the Pendulum Test Value, wet?” (PTV)
For those who do not know, The PTV is the value used in a court to determine whether the floor is slippery as to cause a person danger”
The accepted level is 36 PTV.
It is important to remember that the PTV (Pendulum Test Value) must be achieved when the floor is wet as well as dry. Not as I have seen in some cases, dry only.
We refer to 36 as the “legal” floor safety level.
The PTV is measured using a British Standard Pendulum test machine or another machine that is becoming increasingly popular is the Slip Alert which can be used and correlated with the pendulum result.
It is at the point of establishing the slip factor of the floor that a can of worms is opened.
In many cases the defending organisation will quite often reply that the flooring installed is slip resistant. There are a few optional replies the most common being that the floor is an “R10” slip rating.
Unfortunately a prosecuting litigator can easily nullify this defence because an R rating does not easily correlate with a PTV.
In fact research conducted by 4Earth Solutions and information gleaned from scientists and industry professionals, states that an R10 cannot achieve the “legal” limit of 36.
The R rating is actually a German method for measuring slip resistance and is measured by using a cleated boot on oil and soap on a ramp. The HSE actually state on their website:
HSE has reservations about these test methods, as neither uses contaminants that are representative of those commonly found in workplaces and the way the results are reported and applied is a cause for concern.
According to many floor safety experts, R10 is not capable of achieving the “legal” UK 36+ wet PTV.
Why is it then, that many of the flooring manufacturers selling products into the UK market, only quote R10 or R11 which again does not always achieve 36+ wet PTV?
Well perhaps in the case of some it is because they do not know, others may not care as long as they are selling their products and we would suggest for many it is frankly because they can get away with doing so because no organisation is really holding them accountable.
As with many laws, the law is only broken when there is an accident, and although there should be risk assessments done, the fact that we see well over 90% of floors fail a floor safety slip test, would suggest that most do not have what should be an annual test, done at all.
The HSE appear to lack the funding and are way understaffed to uphold the standard and the flooring associations seem to be focused on other areas to give the most common cause of workplace accidents the attention it requires.
There are associations that “represent best practice and advance their industries.” These associations usually have a policy advising on slip resistance which at best is way outdated but often suits those that get themselves into prominent positions within the association.
It is also important to remember that the associations are paid memberships and in many cases the Board of Directors and committees are run by the manufacturers!
4Earth recently applied to join one of the associations only to be refused because they do not endorse anti slip products and fail to recognise there is a problem with slippery tile floors.
Why is it that many of the distributors and contractors have mistakenly recommended and / or installed R10 products only to find that the floor is too slippery when wet?
One company even installed what they were told was a 45 wet PTV tile, by the manufacturer only to find that the tile was in fact only 18 when wet, representing a floor that, does not get much more dangerous when wet or contaminated.
We have seen manufacturers of flooring quote 40 PTV and on the face of it, the project specifier can be forgiven for thinking that this represented a slip resistant floor. However when there was an accident that subsequently resulted in a costly slip compensation claim, the specifier discovered the additional “(DRY)” alongside the PTV on the technical data sheet. In actual fact, most floors when dry will get 60, so 40 is actually not even that good for a dry floor!
How is this allowed to happen? we know this is wrong, we would hope the flooring manufacturer know it is wrong, but the architect on this occasion did not. He only knew that 40 PTV is acceptable as did the shopping centre manager we consulted for recently. Both thought 40 PTV dry, was fine until we informed them it must be 36 when wet, as well as dry, and that over 90% of accidents happen when the floor is wet or contaminated.
Now of course the flooring manufacturer in question has done nothing wrong legally, they have sold them a floor “as specified.” Has the company behaved ethically? Well, that is another question we will leave for you to decide.
The flooring manufacturers will always say that they would always specify the correct flooring, and there are some fine companies in the industry, but there are others no doubt under pressure to maintain or capture market share. We see too many companies that have not had the correct advice and have installed and paid for the wrong surface.
“But if they call a floor, a slip resistant floor, it must be slip resistant, right?”
Although many manufacturers will tell you that due to a number of factors floors can lose a percentage of slip resistance shortly after installation, we would site one reason being due to poor cleaning and maintenance, we would suggest from the floors we have tested, that many “Slip resistant” floors are only “slip resistant” in terms of being more so, than other floors in their range and quite often will mean that if someone slipped and a slip test was carried out that the floor would not be “legal.”
What can be done?
The law should be made clearer.
Organisations where there is a certain level of footfall and the risk of a floor becoming wet or contaminated is present then it could, or we would say, should, be made compulsory for an annual slip test to be carried out. The results of which, could be registered with the HSE so that any company that sees a slip accident occur and has failed to carry out the necessary measures, would then be held accountable in the appropriate manner.
The PTV standard and what it means should be promoted by the HSE, The UK Slip Resistance Group and its members, as well as Health and Safety Consultants.
The main one for me though, is to solve the confusion over what is, and is not, a slippery floor. It should be simplified and made compulsory that the flooring manufacturers operating in the UK should have to publish Pendulum Test Values on product data sheets for the entire range both dry and wet.
No other values should be acceptable.
This would end any uncertainty for the contractors, distributors and specifiers, which in turn would mean that the customer, the building operator or business owner gets the floor that many hoped they were getting in the first place.
There will be many that say my ideas would be too costly to implement. Others that will complain that they “have enough to do without carrying out my recommended measures”
Consider the annual cost to British business already, £1 Billion overall, £262 million in insurance payouts as well as increases to insurance premiums. we have seen eight fold increases!
Then there is the human cost, those that have sustained injuries that will live with them for the rest of their lives, others who were not so fortunate.
These measures are necessary and worth the time and cost to implement.
For many it would be a case of carrying out the assessment in house. A slip test machine can be hired from Slip Alert for a nominal amount to carry out the test or an independent test can be booked by contacting a member of the UK Slip Resistance Group.
Maybe then we will reduce the number of slip accidents as well as saving the customer significant sums of money in not having to replace the floor, carry out other measures to reduce the risk or by having to pay excessive insurance premiums.