This article first appeared in IMPO's September 2013 issue.

The risk of slips and falls is one every business must face, but industrial environments contend with the added challenge of preventing significantly more dangerous incidents. With heavy machinery, rotating equipment, sharp corners, and other various dangers around every corner, it’s critical manufacturers stress safety… and what better place to start than the floors.

Concrete Concepts

The most common floor in an industrial plant is a concrete slab, and these must be designed to withstand more than just a few footfalls. In an industrial environment, the floor and its coating (most often an epoxy), needs to be able to withstand harsh chemicals and protect the substrate from moisture and contaminants.

But it’s often concerns around sanitation and maintenance that can present dangers for the facility’s employees. Cleaning and resurfacing occur with more frequency, and can pose a threat to worker safety when the right considerations aren’t addressed.

In order to reduce the amount of time your floors are compromised, consider an all-in-one product like VelocityQRO, which combines cleaning, sealing, and degreasing into one formula. According to Ben Wade, regional sales director for Cox Industries, manufacturer of the Velocity QR line, QRO “also serves as a rust preventative, and will actually lubricate your existing floor scrubbers while you use it, extending the life of your investments.”

Specifically, manufacturers of flooring formulas like Cox are looking into ways their products can enhance safety for the end user. Says Wade, “With Velocity’s quick releasing agent and use of nanotechnology, we have created an anti-slip additive. The anti-slip technology aids in eliminating the risk of employees slipping and becoming injured, and it does so without leaving any sticky residues on the floor.” According to Wade, even when the floors are wet during the cleaning process, the Velocity products’ anti-slip agent eliminates the ability to slip on the wet surface.

Rubber Products

Obviously, coatings and cleaners aren’t the only way to keep workers upright. Companies like R.C. Musson Rubber have put years of research and development into creating many types and styles of matting products for safety, easy installation and cleaning, and long term value. According to company vice president Robert S. Segers, most industrial applications can benefit from a matting product with a safety yellow beveled border in order to warn employees and others in the plant of a potentially dangerous work area or piece of equipment.

Segers also recommends “a sturdy, heavy-duty runner or interlocking product with a raised surface” like a diamond pattern or ribs, with holes for liquids and waste products to drain through. If the area is exposed to spills of oils, grease, and other liquids, “a product with an abrasive coating may be necessary to increase safety.”

Rubber products also play a role in preventing musculoskeletal injuries from repetitive stress. Though far less noticeable, injuries that result from long term fatigue can often be fixed with a renewed focus on ergonomics. Things like anti-fatigue matting – a foam-based portable floor product perfect for assembly areas – can help provide relief to those with lower back and leg issues by taking them off a concrete or other hard surface during work. “Although it may not reduce lost time, a comfortable employee is a more productive employee,” says Segers.

Feet On The Floor

Stair Safety

As footprint optimization and overall cost consciousness drives more manufacturers and warehouses to adopt mezzanines, it’s important that they treat their stairs the same as their factory floors – as a possible hazard. “Safety on stairs should be a top priority for both employee safety and company liability,” explains Segers. “Spilled oils, fluids, and other liquids that are tracked from the work area to the stairs are an accident waiting to happen.” Segers points to an R.C. Musson Rubber product where abrasive strips are inserted into standard interior rubber stair treads. In
addition, “we now have a tread made from recycled tires that offers incredible traction in wet conditions for both interior and exterior applications.” Segers also stresses the importance of users employing matting leading up to the stairs, in order to reduce the likelihood of liquids being tracked up the staircase.

Safety: Not Just Slips

Cox’s Wade also stresses that slipping and falling isn’t the only risk that comes along with careless flooring installation and maintenance, and urges manufacturers to consider non-toxic cleaning products to improve worker safety. “Toxic products are becoming a thing of the past. Most companies have moved to water-based cleaners,” he explains.

Cox Industries prides itself on its ability to take safety to the next level, and feels its water-based products actually work better than their toxic counterparts. Incorporating “state of the art plant technology,” says Wade, these cleaning solutions use natural raw materials to meet DFE standards while destroying harmful chemicals. In a somewhat unusual claim to fame, the Velocity line boasts that its biodegradable formula means it actually becomes food for bugs when it goes down the drain, meaning it’s safe for more than just your human employees.