Don’t Slip Up When it Comes to Safe Design

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Tuesday, March 24th, 2015
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Birmingham Hippodrome is one of the UK’s most popular dance theatres.

When the main theatre space came to be refurbished recently, a key requirement was for the resilient flooring to be able to resist the effects of all types of dance and performance activities. Finding appropriate slip resistance properties were crucial to providing the dancers with the best protection against injuries.

Specifying the wrong flooring can pose significant safety risks to building occupants in all kinds of settings, as well as potential financial risks to architects and specifiers. In Australia, falls are the leading cause of hospital-treated injuries. In fact, fall-injury hospitalisations accrue almost one million hospital stay days annually in Australia[1] – a significant burden on hospital beds.

Slips, trips and falls constitute one of the greatest risks to health and safety over the lifetime of a building. Ignorance of slip resistance standards or erroneous specification of product can expose architects to personal injury claims. Although product labels report slip resistance test results, unless the designer knows which test, or tests, these relate to, it may not be appropriate to rely on the result for the floor covering’s intended use.

This should make slip resistance a key factor in the design and specification process and it is vital that designers are familiar with the way slip resistance of products such as resilient flooring is assessed and classified. However, feedback from industry suggests it is not a well understood area, even more so after changes to the standards were introduced in June 2013.

The two relevant Australian Standards for slip resistance testing and classification of resilient floor coverings are AS 4586 for new material to be installed and AS 4663 for already installed and in-use flooring. Within each of these two standards, test methods are specified in the appendices for testing specific flooring applications.

The National Construction Code 2014 (NCC) includes requirements for most commercial buildings to provide slip resistant surfaces for safe movement only in certain areas of buildings: emergency access, pedestrian ramps, stair treads and landings.

The NCC deemed-to-satisfy provisions refer to AS 4586. Of use to specifiers, the Standards Australia & CSIRO Handbook HB 198:2014 An Introductory Guide to the Slip Resistance of Pedestrian Surface Materials provides general commentary on the slip resistance test methods, classification, basis for specification and guidance for designing ramps and sloped areas.

For a specifier to determine the appropriate use of a product, however, it is fundamental to understand the new classifications and labelling, as well as the test types that have been performed on the product.

AS 4586 (2013) Slip resistance classification of new pedestrian surface materials outlines four test methods to classify and assess the frictional properties of floor surfaces:

  • Appendix A: Wet pendulum
  • Appendix B: Dry floor friction
  • Appendix C: Wet barefoot inclining platform (formerly known as a ‘Ramp’ test)
  • Appendix D: Oil wet inclining platform (formerly known as a ‘Ramp’ test)

AS 4663 (2013) Slip resistance measurement of existing pedestrian surfaces includes only Appendix A: Wet pendulum and Appendix B: Dry floor friction.

Not only have some elements of how the tests are carried out been changed in the 2013 revisions, but the classifications of results have also changed in some tests. For example, the Wet Pendulum classifications have changed from the range V to Z to the range P5 to P0.

In essence, each of these slip tests measure the friction between two interacting surfaces in various contexts. The type, or absence, of footwear in combination with varying contaminants such as oil or water, will lead to different slip testing results and classifications.

There is no direct correlation between the four slip testing methods, but there should be some consistency in a product’s results across test methods. For example, if a product was classified both R10 (oil wet inclining platform test) and P1 (wet pendulum test), the difference is significant and could warrant querying with the supplier if the product is suitable for use in a wet area.

A safe design approach is to find products classified under the appropriate floor slip testing method that best simulates the intended conditions for normal usage. This includes considerations of the type of contaminants likely to be present and the type of footwear traffic.

The wet pendulum and dry floor friction test methods apply to a wide range of situations and are likely to be relevant to most situations. On the other hand, inclined platform slip resistance testing classification should be sought for specific situations.

It is not just at specification stage that slip resistance should be considered. Slip resistance of the in-situ product may also be required (AS 4663) to ensure its properties have not deteriorated significantly due to wear, damage or poor or incorrect maintenance regimes.

In summary, the design challenge is to find aesthetically pleasing floor products that are safe for their intended use: that is, safe design. Thankfully, innovation in resilient flooring manufacturing processes means that aesthetics no longer need to be compromised in specification of appropriate slip resistant flooring.

Additionally, comprehensive test methods and up-to-date standards for slip resistance are now available. Specifying the appropriate resilient floor covering for the intended use, surface slope and likely contamination will reduce risks to building occupants and to specifying architects and designers.

[1] HEALTH INFORMATION MANAGEMENT JOURNAL Vol 42 No 3 2013 Cunningham et al
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