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Understanding Floor Care Terminology
Insight on some of the words and phrases related to slips, trips and falls.
By Mike Englund
APRIL 05, 2013

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This article contains information supplemental to what was covered in "Making Grocery Store Floor Care Your Signature Item" from our April 2013 issue.

Trade publications of all kinds frequently carry articles about floor care, and most especially, floor safety.

However, a crucial factor that is often missing in these articles is a thorough explanation of floor care terminology, specifically as it pertains to floor safety and the goal of preventing slips, trips and falls.

After all, if you don’t know the words to describe a floor care condition that could lead to an accident, how can you take steps to prevent it?

Of course, some terms, such as floor “obstructions,” are commonly used and most people know or can decipher what they mean; an obstruction is anything protruding into a walking pathway.

But, others that are just as important to know are far less frequently heard or understood.

The following list offers some key floor care terms and their definitions.

Some of the verbiage used when discussing slips, trips and falls includes:

Asperities: Raised edges or abrasives on a walking surface that help make it safer to walk on. Often, asperities are applied to a floor surface, such as adding sand to a slippery surface, to give more traction.
Coefficient of friction: This phrase, often abbreviated as COF, refers to the amount of friction on a dry surface when tested with a slip meter. Slip resistance, a related term, is used when referring to the amount of traction on a floor or on shoes.
Contributing factors: Frequently used when describing slip-and-fall accidents or related legal issues, this term simply means any conditions that may have affected or contributed to a potential slip, trip or fall.
Human factors: Related to contributing factors, human factors are those that relate to individuals’ differing physical capabilities. For instance, an elderly person slips on a floor that is frequently walked on by younger people who do not slip on the same floor. Younger people typically have greater agility and faster reactions than an older person; the older person slipped due to their age — a human factor.
Level changes: This could refer to the fact that two adjoining floor surfaces are not flush with one another or to floor height changes of three or fewer steps. Stairs, another term, are a series of steps — normally more than three — from one level to another.
Polymerization: Often associated with foodservice floors, polymerization refers to the buildup of greases and soils that, if not properly removed, makes a walking surface slippery. The term has other meanings and is also used when discussing the chemicals and chemical processes in producing floor finish.
Riser: The riser is the vertical part of a stair or step; a tread is the horizontal part of a step.
Slope: Slope refers to an inclined walking surface and is calculated mathematically. For instance, a 1.20 slope would mean that, for every foot of rise on a floor, a walker travels a distance of 20 feet.
Surface changes: This refers to an immediatetransition from one type of flooring material to another, such as from walking on carpet to walking on a hard surface floor. This is related to surface composition, which describes the type of material that makes up a floor surface.
Surface conditions: This phrase refers to a floor’s condition at a specific time, such as wet, dry, slippery or tacky — an important factor in slip-and-fall accidents.
Unusual features: An unusual feature is anything out of the ordinary that might have contributed to a floor-related accident.
Visibility: This term refers to the relative ability to view one’s surroundings, especially where someone is walking.
The Importance Of Understanding

Five years ago, when the economy took a plunge, many blamed it on the thousands of subprime mortgages made in the years previous to the crash.

When investigating the situations further, it was discovered that many mortgage holders, the people buying homes, really did not understand the mortgages they signed or what many of the terms used in their mortgages actually meant.

It is possible that, if the mortgages and the terminology used therein were thoroughly understood, at least some home buyers may have had a better idea of what they were signing and could have protected themselves financially.

While this may be an extreme example, it does highlight why understanding keywords, phrases and other terms is so important when it comes to slips, trips and falls.

It is estimated that the medical costs associated with slip-and-fall accidents is more than $70 billion annually in the U.S. alone — a figure that is consistently growing.

Because cleaning professionals are so closely involved in keeping floors clean and safe, we play an essential role in preventing these accidents.

And, the better we understand the terms associated with slip-and-fall accidents, the better we can help prevent them and their associated health and financial impacts.

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