June 1, 2012
By Leon Altman
There is nothing more refreshing than going for a swim on a hot summer day. Whether at an aquatic centre, marina or water/theme park, aquatic amenities are always popular. As numerous people partake in many water-related activities at these various facilities, not only is there a need to ensure everyone participates safely, but also for management to provide/maintain safe environments.
Slip-and-fall accidents on surfaces near water, including pool decks, marinas, water parks, locker rooms, showers, toilets, saunas and spas, are a major cause of serious injury in North America. They are especially hazardous to unaware users due to the risks posed by constantly wet and slippery floors, which have not been treated as to make them safe for use. Decks can become slippery not only from water, but also from body oils, lotions, mildew or algae. Uneven surfaces with cracks or lifting cement slabs, gaps in lumber, loose mats, unstable ramps can also increase these hazards.
In Canada, property owners and facility operators are required by law to ensure their facilities are safe for both employees and occupants. These laws include federal bill C-45, which relates to workplace health and safety.
Under this law, anyone who has a role in setting policy or managing an important part of an organization’s activities is under legal duty and could be found guilty of criminal negligence if they fail to take reasonable steps to prevent bodily harm or shows reckless disregard for the lives or safety of others. Swimming pool facility operators who ignore the requirements for comprehensive anti-slip prevention measures are not always aware of the impact these laws have (i.e. monetary fines and criminal punishment).
In the U.S., there are provisions under the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which set standards regarding minimum slip resistance requirements for various walking surfaces using a coefficient of friction (COF) scalar value. Based on these standards, which are similar to those used in Canada, surfaces surrounding swimming pools and other aquatic areas should have a COF reading of 0.6 or higher.
Swimming pool decks are not the only area for slip-and-fall concerns. Ramps, diving boards, showers, saunas and locker room floors, where surfaces comprise hard materials such as tile, vinyl, laminate and paint should also be considered.
Among the types of surfaces of concern are those made of wood as they can rot, splinter or crack and become trip hazards. If the areas adjoining the water are not well-planned, and defects are not remedied promptly, operators may have a weak defense against any legal action for damages from injury.
Further, injuries associated with slips and falls from diving platforms is another area of concern. According to a study performed by Public Health Agency Canada, over a 16-year period (1990-2005), approximately 1.5 million injuries were recorded due to slips and falls involving diving boards, towers and platforms.6 These accidents were documented at both indoor/outdoor public facilities where the direct cause was not from the performance of a dive, but rather the condition of the diving surface (i.e. concrete/ceramic decks or diving structure [board, platform, stairs, ladder] and loose mats).
Finally, it should also be remembered, those facilities with food preparation areas (i.e. dining and kitchen rooms) are also subject to slip-and-fall injuries due to the accumulation of water, grease, oils, etc. In these cases, floor cleaning and degreasing chemicals, which are approved by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), should be used to clean these surfaces.
It is important not to compromise on the quality of degreasing chemicals being used; higher-quality products may seem expensive, but are manufactured to stringent performance standards to effectively remove any dirt and grime. Also, due to hard water issues in Canada, it is recommended that the cleaning products used on hard deck surfaces have the ability to remove not only dirt and oil deposits, but also hard water residue.
When it comes to slip-and-fall injury prevention, there are many safety products available from reliable manufacturers to help minimize risks of injury at aquatic facilities. A qualified, knowledgeable supplier can provide sound advice on what products work best to reduce or eliminate slip-and-fall injuries. Before selecting a product, however, ensure it has been tested and approved by an independent testing laboratory.
Commercial-grade, self-adhesive, anti-slip tapes—available in clear and multiple colours—are specifically made for the aquatics industry. They are barefoot friendly and can be applied in various areas such as handicap access ramps, diving boards, and stairways leading to diving platforms and slides. Some also conform to uneven surfaces, are resilient and are available in sheet format to replace loose mats.
Photo luminescent (glow in the dark) and reflective formats are also available, which help to ensure safety during power outages as well as in low-light areas. As no curing time is required, anti-slip tapes are low-cost, easy-to-apply products that can be used to help prevent many potential hazards without disrupting the daily activities of a busy facility. They are manufactured in a large range of widths—from 25.4 mm (1 in.) to 1.2 m (4 ft)—and available in clear and/or various colours (e.g. black, safety yellow, yellow/black diagonals).
Anti-slip coatings are available in both water base and industrial-epoxy formats. Water-based coatings are available in clear and tinted applications and can be used on wooden decks surrounding various aquatic amenities. Heavy-duty industrial-epoxy coatings can be used on concrete, steel and other similar floors that are subject to heavier traffic. Both coating and treatment products can be applied quickly via roller.
A range of indoor/outdoor water-based chemicals and coatings, which impart anti-slip properties onto natural stone tiles (e.g. granite, porcelain, slate, quarry tile, ceramic, marble and concrete) are also available.
Unlike coatings, anti-slip treatments will not peel. These products can be applied directly to a ceramic, porcelain or mineral-based deck surface using a special applicator (i.e. lambs wool) and kept wet on the surface for approximately 15 minutes before rinsing with water. With good housekeeping, facility operators can ensure the effectiveness of one anti-slip treatment application for up to five years.
Facility downtime is minimized as cure time is typically not required. In terms of ongoing maintenance, facility operators must keep the deck surface clean to prevent the buildup of soil and grease. An effective cleaning regiment is crucial.
To ensure pool deck areas and walking surfaces are in constant compliance with safety standards, facility operators should use a portable slip meter to take regular readings. These meters are well worth the investment and help make testing simple. By documenting regular readings, a facility can confirm its efforts in maintaining slip-resistant standards should an injury occur. If ongoing readings are found to be non-compliant, the unsafe surface should be corrected without delay.
Leon Altman is the technical director at No Skidding Products Inc., a manufacturer and distributer of slip-resistant products in Toronto. He can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by visiting www.noskidding.com.
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