Winter never fails to bring with it all sorts of elements—rain, sleet, snow, ice—and patients, visitors and staff members alike are bound to track them into your facility. This can be messy, but more importantly it can be an issue of safety.
Of course, slip-and-fall injuries can be caused by other factors as well, from the type of flooring in a facility to the type of cleaning equipment and products being used by the housekeeping staff. It's important for a facility to make a conscious effort to address these factors and be legally prepared if an accident does take place.
Behavioral Healthcare asked Gary Milewski of Managed Risk Prevention LLC to provide some practical tips on managing slip-and-fall safety, particularly during the winter months, but also year round.
Here's what he had to say broken down into four useful tips:
1. Weigh the pros and cons of flooring
One of the first things to consider is the type of flooring in a facility, Milewski says. For example, waxed floors can become extremely slippery when patients are walking around in just socks.
Because of this, more and more facilities are looking at no-wax flooring and slip-resistant flooring, he says. Although they may not shine like a regular floor might, these types of flooring will greatly reduce the potential for someone to slip and injure themselves.
2. Consider your housekeeping equipment and methods
It's important to take a look at the equipment and products used by the housekeeping staff to care for and clean the floors. For example, Milewski says, many organizations are switching to microfiber mops that do not sop the floor with excess water.
Another safety issue to consider in a behavioral health setting that's not so much a slip-and-fall issue, albeit related, is leaving signage out to signal caution to an area of wet floor.
“You don’t want to leave any tools or anything available where somebody could pick it up and potentially use it if they get upset or something; you don't want to provide a weapon to somebody,” Milewski says.
As an alternative, he recommends cleaning staff mop an area and monitor it until it's fully dry. Again, using a microfiber mop would make this process less time consuming and more efficient. According to an article by the Sustainable Hospitals Project, a project out of the University of Massachusetts Lowell, microfiber mops hold liquid without dripping excess water and leaves only a light film on the floor which dries quickly.
3. Prepare for the elements
Tracking in rain water is something just about every treatment center will have to deal with, but depending on what area of the country a facility is located, some may have to put more stock into managing elements like snow and ice than others. But what’s even worse than snow and ice for causing slippage, Milewski says, is salt.
“Salt will react with the wax and create an even bigger problem,” he says, explaining that when salt gets into floor wax and begins to melt it, the wax can melt over and become even more slippery and hazardous.
He recommends that facilities line entrances and exits with four to eight feet of walk-off mats to ensure that visitors, staff members and patients can all wipe their feet and truly get everything off the bottom of their shoes—whether it’s moisture, snow or salt.
Another factor to consider, depending on the nature of the facility, is maintaining the safety of outdoor recreational spaces. In a long-term care facility that provides areas for patients to go outside, there can be an increased risk of liability.
"If they’re not shoveling the snow away or clearing the ice and a patients happens to slip and fall, [a facility] can be held negligent, especially if they knew there was ice on the ground and did nothing about it," Milewski says.
What he recommended is using a combination of salt and sand together, with a heavier mixture of the later. This will provide additional traction without causing a problematic reaction to the flooring.
4. Take every precaution
Milewski says that the worst thing a facility could do to prevent slip-and-fall injuries is nothing, especially if an accident has already occurred. Facilities should take every precaution, prepare for the worst, and be accountable when something does happen.
"If you know that your floors are waxed, you're using salt outside, and you’ve had instances where [accidents] have occurred and do nothing to prevent that, you start to fall into an area of negligence," he says. "Because if you’re aware, then you become liable for any additional occurrences."
Although there's no way a facility can be completely accident-free, implementing these safety measures will help greatly and speak volumes during potential legal issues, he says.
"You’re not going to be able to prevent everything; things are going to happen," Milewski says. "But an organization is in a much better position to be able to defend [liability] by taking some of these steps."