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Dissecting The Slip And Fall Accident

 

Workplace safety is a concern to everyone. Employees, employers, risk managers, insurers and even visitors are impacted by the level of commitment to safety at your physical facility. As long as businesses have existed, one of the most common and costly threats to a workplace safety program has been the slip and fall accident.

 

Friction, also referred to as traction, is the relationship of object to surface; foot to floor. In terms of slip resistance, it is the resistance to lateral (forward) movement caused by the foot touching the ground. To determine the slip resistance of any surface, you must determine the Coefficient of Friction (COF) on the surface. The COF is the horizontal force divided by the vertical force. The higher the coefficient of friction reading, the less slippery a surface. Coefficient of Friction has become an important measure of performance for floor surfaces and to the anti-fatigue and safety matting industry. To guard against slip and fall accidents, OSHA recommends a static coefficient of friction of .5. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) specifies a coefficient of friction of .6 on flat surfaces and .8 on ramps. With these recommendations in place, the concept of slip resistance has basically been elevated to a civil right. Right now, the static coefficient of friction of .5 is seen as legal and enforceable benchmark for slip resistant pedestrian walkways. (March 1999, Safety and Health, p. 62, "Slip Resistance Standards: Sorting it all Out", Barrett C. Miller)

 

A real life example of the legal ramifications of Coefficient of Friction standards is the Florida Supreme Court Case of Morowitz v. Vistaview Apartments, Ltd., et al., 613 So. 2d 493 (3 Dist. 1993). In this case, Geraldine Morowitz slipped and fell on a tile floor outside the Vistaview Apartments shortly after it had rained, sustaining a fractured hip. The tile floor was located near an open air atrium in a common area of an apartment complex. At trial, Morowitz requested a negligence per se jury instruction patterned on the South Florida Building Code. The Building Code provided certain minimum standards of slip resistance based on UBC and ASTM standards. Morowitz claimed that the apartment complex violated the building code. On appeal, the court found in favor of Morowitz ruling she was entitled to the negligence per se instruction.

 

For employers, building managers, and insurers there is an umbrella of protection under the law. Many such lawsuits can be won if you have a maintenance program that is strictly followed. One such example is the case of O'Connor v. ISS International Service System, Inc., 644 N.Y.S. 2d 410 (Sup. Ct., App. Div. 1996). Following a slip and fall accident, the plaintiff, O'Connor claimed that the defendant negligently applied excessive amounts of wax on the floor allowing the same to accumulate. In its Motion for Summary Judgment, the defendant showed that FF-425 wax was applied to the floor weekly and was not slippery when dry because its static coefficient of friction exceeded the standard set for floors by the American Society of Testing and Materials. The defendant also proved that the floors were stripped of wax every three weeks. O'Connor did not refute the defendants' expert opinion. Summary judgment in favor of the defendant was affirmed.

 

Note: A COF of higher than .8 does not significantly add to the slip resistance. However, a COF of much over 1.0 can impede a person's ability to ambulate. Sources:Safety + Health Magazine, January, 2000, "OSHA Update" pgs. 12-13.Industrial Safety and Hygiene News, January, 2000, "All About OSHA's proposed Ergonomics Requirements", pgs. 25-26.

 
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