I have investigated hundreds of slip and fall incidents in my career. Today, we have new tools and technology available to assist investigators in conducting forensic investigations to determine the cause or causes of these incidents and to assist owners and operators in loss preventions efforts to minimize the potential of slip and fall incidents.
Tribology is the study of interacting surfaces in relative motion. It includes the study and application of the principles of friction, lubrication and wear. Tribometry is the science of measuring the slip resistance of walkway surfaces. When analyzing slip and fall cases experts assess the walking surface, potential contaminates or lubricants on the walking surface, footwear, human ambulation and other factors. With evolutions in slip meter technology and operating procedures we can now in many cases generate meaningful slip resistance values in the field. It is important to note that the data generated from testing are just one factor in an overall assessment of a slip incident. Tribometry, however can be an important assessment tool in many slip and fall cases and is being increasingly used by experts in slip and fall cases.
Walking Surface Products
Owners, managers and maintainers of walkway surfaces can utilize a number of products to minimize the potential for slip and fall incidents. Many of these products are improved over prior generations and there are new products being continuously developed for the market. New cleaning products, extraction floor cleaning machines, walk off matting, walkway traction enhancement products and floor treatments, as well as new floor construction materials are available. For example, broom brushed concrete is recognized as a relatively slip resistant walking surface in wet and dry environments and typically used as an exterior walking surface. With improved extraction cleaning equipment, stained broom brushed concrete is now in use in some retail and restaurant environments as a replacement for hard smooth vinyl or tile floor surfaces.
Video Surveillance and cell phone cameras
Many of the slip and fall incidents I investigate are now recorded on video. These systems are primarily installed by local governments and business owners for security and crime prevention purposes, but are also capturing slip and fall incidents. Municipalities are adding more street cameras providing increasing coverage for exterior areas in cities and those cameras compliment the cameras provided by business owners.
Video documentation is often useful in determining the cause of slip and fall incidents. The video quality is typically not very good at this time and in many incidences the surveillance video cameras are not located in ideal positions for capturing some of the desired details of a slip and fall incident that investigators would like to see. With camera technology improvements, it is hoped for and anticipated that the quality of the video will improve in the future allowing video documentation to be even more valuable to investigators.
One only has to look at the nightly news to observe the impact of cell phone cameras used to capture live video and images. Cell phone cameras rarely catch slip and fall incidents in progress but people often use them to take photographs of the scene immediately after a slip and fall incident. Walkway surface conditions change over time, so and information documenting conditions of the walkways near the time of a slip and fall incident can be helpful. This is extremely important in some cases where conditions of the walking surface at the time of the incident have substantially changed due to the passage of time and or in the case of a subsequent remedial repair.
Developments in tribometry and walkway surface safety have allowed experts to better analyze slip and fall incidents when they occur. Improved surfaces and surface treatment products have also helped owners, managers and maintainers of walkway surfaces provide greater safety to pedestrians.
J. Steven Hunt, CPCU, ARM, is a senior safety consultant at Warren. Steve specializes in premises liability incidents, construction falls and safety management programs, has achieved the designation of Associate Risk Management and Chartered Property and Liability Underwriter from Insurance Institute of America, Chicago, IL. Steve has investigated more than 1,000 accidents in his more than 39-year career, including 33 cases involving fatalities. He holds a Bachelor of Science in Administrative Management with a Minor in Occupational Safety and Health from Clemson University.