The Hard Truth About Concrete Safety
Russell J. Kendzior

When we think of concrete walkways and floors we don't usually associate them with slip-and-fall accidents, but not all concrete is the same. Variations in troweled finishes, surface treatments and additives can affect slip resistance.

Slips and falls are one of the most preventable types of accidents. However, many property owners believe that the causes are too complex to understand, let alone manage. Research shows that 50% of all slips and falls are caused by unsafe or improperly maintained walkway surfaces. That is to say that by focusing on the floor property owners can prevent most slips and falls. (See chart top right)

Although concrete is one of the most common walkway surfaces worldwide, there had never been a recognized test method for determining its slip resistance until the National Floor Safety Institute (NFSI) introduced their NFSI 101-A standard.


Slip resistance measurement device
For the first time in history a single, universal method of measuring walkway slip resistance was developed. Manufacturers and their customers alike are actively embracing this standard.

But just how slippery is concrete anyway? The NFSI 101-A standard calls for walkways to posses a Static Coefficient of Friction (SCOF) range of a 0.6 or greater when wet. Surfaces that exhibit such properties are defined as "High Traction" and work to prevent slips and falls. Regardless of the condition and location of the walkway surface, the state-of the-art UWT can measure the surfaces slip resistance with a stunning 96% degree of accuracy. But can too much slip resistance be bad? Yes. Research shows that wet SCOF values greater than a 1.0 can lead to a trip-and-fall condition to which the elderly are most susceptible. The target range is therefore between a 0.6 and a 1.0.

A Consumer Focused Approach to Safety
For years both consumers and manufacturers have had no clear-cut view of walkway safety. This resulted in increased insurance costs and exposure to litigation. For consumers the choice is now clear. By selecting NFSI Certified products the consumer can now rest assured that the product has been independently tested and offers the highest level of safety. Concrete contractors also benefit by being able to offer their customers a higher degree of safety performance. Because the finished concrete surface can be accurately measured, contractors can deliver their customers a more accurate range of slip resistance. Depending on trowel smoothness, chemical treatments and additives (i.e., densifiers and hardeners) can now be adjusted to deliver a specific slip resistance range that can be measured and recorded at anytime in the future. Several national insurance companies are already looking at recommending the use of NFSI Certified products, which may eventually become the basis of determining future insurance premiums.

The cost of slip-and-fall accidents is staggering
It is estimated that the annual cost of slips-and-falls exceeds $60 billion and is growing at an alarming pace. To better understand just why slips and falls are at epidemic levels one has only to look at the average victim. The most common victim of a slip-and-fall accident is a woman aged 60 or older. In fact, the National Safety Council reports that falls are the leading cause of accidental fatalities for individuals aged 75 and older. Do the math! Today more than 38 million Americans are over the age of 60, which will nearly double to 77 million by the end of this decade. Given that the most likely victim of a slip-and-fall is an elderly person and that the number of elderly Americans will double, what effect will this have on the future rate of slip-and-fall accidents? If you think things are bad now, just wait a few years.

This problem is further compounded by the fact that we live in a litigious environment. Slip and fall lawsuits are commonplace today, to which an average jury award exceeds $100,000. With an average legal defense cost of nearly $50,000, many property owners have found it less expensive to settle slip-and-fall lawsuits rather than go to court, only to see their insurance costs skyrocket.

By following the following three simple steps, you and your customer can manage slips and falls.

  1. Provide your customer with a target range of slip resistance and encourage them to audit their walkways periodically to insure their safety.
  2. Use only NFSI certified after-market concrete treatments, conditioners, and sealers.
  3. Recommend that your customer use a NFSI Certified cleaning agent, or traction-enhancing treatments to restore the built-in slip resistance of their concrete walkway.

Russell J. Kendzior is President and CEO of Traction Plus, Inc. and Founder of the National Floor Safety Institute (NFSI). Internationally recognized as an expert in the prevention of slip-and-fall accidents, Mr. Kendzior is a nationally acclaimed lecturer, author and legal consultant.

Author of the best selling book entitled "Slip and Fall Prevention Made Easy" Mr. Kendzior has written a wide range of articles and newsletters for various trade publications and safety journals.

A member of the National Safety Council and the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM), and is currently serving on several ASTM committees including F-13, D-21, C-21 and F-6 committees which seek to develop slip-resistant safety standards.

You can reach Russ at (817) 749-1700 or e-mail: russk@nsfi.org.

NSFI's web address is www.nsfi.org.


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© 2004 L&M Construction Chemicals, Inc. | ConcreteNews Fall 2004.

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