Slippery when wet – A mop bucket mentality

June 2, 2011 | by D. B. "Libby" Libhart

I first noticed the unmistakable sound of a mop bucket being pushed across a tile floor. I glanced over at the shift manager as he rolled the bucket of hot sudsy water toward the doors. It was mid morning and I was sitting in a regional bagel chain store. The morning rush was over and the employees were cleaning up, restocking and taking a breath. The industrious shift manager stopped in the hallway between the entrance doors, withdrew the mop from the sudsy bucket, held it out, and slopped the sudsy water over the tile floor. He then repeated the procedure all the way down the corridor, the sudsy water splashing in every direction. At one point he actually tipped the bucket to get even more water on the floor.

Vulnerability to Customers

As the scene played out, I stopped the conversation with my companion and focused on the shift manager as he performed his floor mopping technique, although for the first several minutes the mop had not touched the floor. In the meantime, several customers entered the eatery and stepped onto the slippery, soapy floor, walking gingerly after the initial step. The manager never greeted the customers as they entered, nor issued any warning of the floor condition. Some may say at this point that the manager should have placed “Wet Floor” signs in the appropriate areas. Yes, probably, but it would not make the floor condition any less hazardous with the mopping technique he employed.

Major Chain Efforts

The major restaurant chains have studied the issues of slips and falls and have probably tried, tested, analyzed and rejected most products and procedures proclaiming to be the answer to preventing slip and fall accidents on tile floors. They are in constant search of a solution that can prevent and mitigate slip and fall accidents. They are the number one claim in the restaurant industry that cost billions of dollars in medical costs, insurance premiums and third party administration fees. Their finding was that there is no silver bullet to ending slip and fall accidents. There were, however, some insights from their trial and error journey.

Contributing Factors to Slippery

The type and condition of the floor tile, the co-efficient of friction of the tiles themselves, the cleaning routine, the presence of foreign substances on the floor, including water, and the footwear are all contributing factors of slipping and falling on tile floors. Some cleaning procedures can actually make the floor conditions worse with residue accumulating in the pores of the tile reducing the friction called polymerization. Pitches for floor cleaning products tout that they can “lift” this residue from the tiles. Perhaps they can. But if the tile floor cleaning program includes the manager’s style above, it won’t matter if the residue is absent from the tile recesses. Employees and customers will slip and fall on a sudsy floor.

Mop Bucket Mentality

Any factor that changes the level of friction between the tile floor and the sole of the shoe will increase or decrease the level of slipperiness and thus the vulnerability to slipping and falling. If both surfaces are clean and dry the likelihood of slipping is reduced. So, many times the act of cleaning up our dining rooms and lobbies actually cause the accidents. A franchise owner once told me he dubbed this as a “mop bucket mentality.” We feel good about what we think makes sense by constantly mopping without much thought to what we’re doing – and using a lot of labor to do it. We simply move the grease and dirt around without ever really getting it up, and actually cross contaminate by using the same bucket of mop water to clean the dining room as we just used to clean the kitchen.

The simple answer is – most slip and fall accidents are avoidable, but it is not an easy one.

Comprehensive Steps

  1. Tile Selection – Choose tiles for slip resistance not just aesthetics. Tiles can be appealing and slip resistant.
  2. Documented cleaning procedures – Have clear written procedures on floor cleaning procedures and products to be used.
  3. Floor Maintenance - Choose appropriate cleaning products and use properly.   Be certain that everyone cleaning and mopping the floor is familiar with proper procedures and equipment to be used.
  4. Degreasers – Utilize recommended degreasers when and where appropriate.
  5. Training – Train all employees to recognize, report, and respond to hazards. Train on proper use of cleaning chemicals, cleaning techniques and proper use of wet floor signs.
  6. Slip Resistant Shoes – Require or provide slip resistant shoes for employees.
  7. Investigate Claims - Investigate all claims to determine cause of the accident and ways to prevent in the future.

The key to a floor cleaning program is to increase the friction between the floor and the soles of the shoes walking across the surface. If you are having slip and fall incidents by employees and customers have the floor tested for its coefficient of friction. Your insurance company can usually provide a competent referral. Take the necessary steps to address floor care with a comprehensive program.

Then, the sound of a mop bucket pushed across a tile floor may not seem so scary.

Topics: Business Strategy and Profitability , Insurance / Risk Management , Loss Prevention

D. B. "Libby" Libhart / D.B. “Libby” Libhart has more than 30 years of experience in the loss prevention industry. He has provided security and safety leadership in retail settings such as department stores, drug stores and quick-service restaurants. Before launching his own company, LossBusters, Libby served as the Senior Director of U.S. Security and Safety for McDonald’s Corp. He entered the QSR industry with Taco Bell and subsequently YUM Brands.
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