Winter never fails to bring with it all sorts of elements—rain, sleet, snow, ice—and residents, visitors and staff members alike are bound to track them into your facility. The elements can be messy, but more importantly, they can cause safety issues.
Of course, slip-and-fall injuries can be caused by factors such as the type of flooring in a building to the type of cleaning equipment and products being used by the staff, too. Facilities must make a conscious effort to address these factors and be legally prepared if an accident occurs.
Gary Milewski of Managed Risk Prevention LLC provided four practical tips on managing slip-and-fall safety at any time of year, particularly during the winter months:
1. Weigh the pros and cons of flooring
One of the first things to consider is the type of flooring in a facility, Milewski says. For example, waxed floors can become extremely slippery when patients are walking around in just socks.
Because of this fact, more and more facilities are looking at no-wax flooring and slip-resistant flooring, he says. Although they may not shine like a regular floor might, these types of floors will greatly reduce the potential for someone to slip and injure themselves.
2. Consider your housekeeping equipment and methods
Take a look at the equipment and products the housekeeping staff uses to care for and clean the floors. Many organizations, for example, are switching to microfiber mops that do not sop the floor with excess water, Milewski says.
Consider cleaning staff mop an area and monitor it until it is fully dry. Again, he says, using a microfiber mop would make this process less time-consuming and more efficient. According to an article [PDF] by the Sustainable Hospitals Project, a project out of the University of Massachusetts, Lowell, microfiber mops hold liquid without dripping excess water and leaves only a light film on the floor which dries quickly.
3. Prepare for the elements
Tracking in rain water is an issue for just about every building, but depending on the area of the country in which a facility is located, some may have to put more stock into managing elements such as snow and ice more than others. But what’ is even worse than snow and ice for causing slippage, Milewski says, is salt.
“Salt will react with the wax and create an even bigger problem,” he says, explaining that when salt gets into floor wax and begins to melt it, the wax can melt over and become even more slippery and hazardous.
He recommends lining entrances and exits with four to eight feet of walk-off mats to ensure that visitors, staff members and residents can all wipe their feet and truly get everything—moisture, snow and salt—off the bottom of their shoes.
Another factor to consider, depending on the nature of the facility, is maintaining the safety of outdoor recreational spaces. In a long-term care facility that provides areas for patients to go outside, there can be an increased risk of liability.
"If they’re not shoveling the snow away or clearing the ice and a patients happens to slip and fall, [a facility] can be held negligent, especially if they knew there was ice on the ground and did nothing about it," Milewski says.
What he recommended is using a combination of salt and sand together, with a heavier mixture of the later. This will provide additional traction without causing a problematic reaction to the flooring.
4. Take every precaution
Milewski says that the worst thing a facility can do to prevent slip-and-fall injuries is nothing, especially if an accident already has happened. Take every precaution, prepare for the worst and be accountable if something does occur.
"If you know that your floors are waxed, you’re using salt outside, and you’ve had instances where [accidents] have occurred and do nothing to prevent that, you start to fall into an area of negligence," he says. "Because if you’re aware, then you become liable for any additional occurrences."
Although a facility cannot be completely accident-free, implementing these safety measures should help greatly and speak volumes if legal issues crop up, he says. “You’re not going to be able to prevent everything; things are going to happen,” Milewski says. “But an organization is in a much better position to be able to defend [liability] by taking some of these steps.”
Julia Brown is associate editor of Long-Term Living sister brand Behavioral Healthcare.