Safety Steps: Preventing Slips and Falls in Mega Retail Centers

Categories: Bidding & Workloading, Cleaning Applications

By Gary Pelphrey | December 7, 2010 << Back to Articles

A potentially lucrative market for building service contractors (BSCs) is the maintenance of hard surface floors for mega-retailers. The biggest need for this service is with large grocery stores; however, retailers such as Target, K-Mart, and similar chain stores will often outsource their stores’ floor maintenance to BSCs. And what can make this even more lucrative is that very often the grocery store or retailer will hire the BSC to maintain the floors not in just one store, but several of the chain’s locations.

A Critical Issue
For most retailers, proper floor maintenance is critical.  Not only are clean, well-maintained floors a “welcome mat” for shoppers, but studies indicate the vast majority of slip-and-fall accidents that happen in a grocery store or similar large outlet involving both shoppers and staff are due to floor-related hazards, many of which could have been prevented, and many that are maintenance-related.

This is a multi-million dollar problem.  According to some reports, slip-and-fall claims average anywhere from US$8,000 to $14,000 per claim. These claims can quickly become huge amounts for a mega store and when the injuries involve store personnel, its impact on worker productivity can be considerable.

Because of this, BSCs now performing these services for mega-retailers or considering entering this service arena are challenged to do more than just keep their customers’ floors clean and shiny. They must become guides and teachers, helping store managers reduce these accidents and prevent injuries as well as the associated costs.

Although a BSC can do little to prevent hazards from occurring during store hours, such as merchandise or produce falling off a shelf in a grocery store that can become a slip-and-fall waiting to happen, there are steps they can suggest to managers to improve overall floor safety.  Some of these steps include:

Identify potential hazards. As discussed, although little can be done to prevent a hazard during store hours, cleaning contractors can make managers aware of certain areas that are prone to slip-and-fall accidents. In one grocery store, the floors around meat and poultry areas tended to become damp and greasy during the course of the day.  Simply placing matting in these areas kept them cleaner and safer.

Walk the store.  Many retailers require restroom staff that to sign off and date and time when the restroom was last cleaned.  A similar inspection and “walkthrough” program is necessary to maintain clean and safe floors.  There are actually three types of walkthroughs.  First, before the store opens, staffers should inspect the floor to make sure no residue cleaning solution or debris is left on the floor from the cleaning service from the night before.  Next, throughout the day, staffers should look for potential floor hazards that occur during open hours and rectify them as soon as discovered.  Finally, at store closing, make sure there are no hazards that could inhibit the cleaning service from maintaining the floor properly. This should all be documented.

Document floor accidents.  Along with documenting the walkthroughs, whenever a floor-related accident occurs, it should also be documented.  Some states now require this by law.  Again, it helps to identify potential problem areas in the store.

Ensure that the cleaning chemicals and finishes used on the floors, whether selected by the retailer or the BSC, meet ANSI B101.1 standards, which are designed to help reduce slip-and-fall accidents.

Equipment Issues
To help cut costs, many retailers are scaling back on the number of days per week that their floors are maintained.  In some cases, they are having their own staff clean the store’s floors on an interim basis and turning over the more demanding floor care work to the BSC on altering days.  This puts added pressure on the BSC to improve worker productivity and select floor care equipment that properly maintains floor appearance and safety on a less reoccurring basis.

Some floor care equipment manufacturers are aware of this trend and are developing equipment that helps meet this challenge.  For instance, to help improve worker productivity, some new cordless automatic scrubbers have been introduced that essentially double operating time to as much as ten hours.  Along with this, some machines have considerably larger capacity solution and recovery tanks, which allows cleaning workers to spend more time cleaning and less time emptying and refilling tanks.

And, the actual designs of some scrubbers have changed.  For example, at least one manufacturer has narrowed the width of their machines.  The narrower width makes it easier to maneuver the machine closer to edges and corners as well as in and around floor displays and counters.  In addition, some machines employ three separate motors for drive, vacuum, and brush.  This enhancement allows for multiple-speed settings, which improves flexibility and equipment performance markedly.

Experts Get Hired
Before attempting to market their services to large retailers, it is crucial that BSCs become experts on this type of floor care.  The suggestions discussed earlier, referencing how to help prevent and eradicate floor safety hazards, are just the beginning.  BSCs must become floor safety experts.  Classes that are provided by ISSA, IICRC, and other organizations can help BSCs advance their knowledge, expertise, and credibility in this area.  

The big benefit to the BSC is not only becoming well-versed on floor care and particularly floor safety, but also the trust that is gained. Most retailers also turn to their BSC to help make their stores safer.  This builds the relationship between the retailer and BSC and is one of the best ways to promote customer retention. 

About the Author.

Gary Pelphrey is general manager of Powr-Flite Direct, a leading manufacturer of floor care equipment and other professional cleaning tools.