Insurance Companies, the Legal Community, and Floor Safety

One of the single most contributing factors that have influenced insurance costs for retail and restaurant establishments over the years is slip and fall incidents involving customers and employees.  This is a known fact that has been articulated in studies conducted by government agencies such as the Centers for Disease Control and The National Safety Council.  The cost of slip and fall injuries is being elevated even higher as we see the baby boomers age. Recent court records show that this is the most litigious generation in history and those that experience a slip and fall are not walking away without demanding huge sums of compensation in return for a fall. 

“Falls among people 65 and older is now the leading cause of injury deaths,” said Bill O’Connell, executive director of Government Affairs for the National Safety Council. “Furthermore, the mortality rate from falls for older Americans has increased 39 percent between 1999 and 2005. We must find a way to combat this growing public health concern before it is too late.” 

According to the 50-state breakdown of senior death rates from accidental falls, New Mexico ranked highest with 99.26 deaths per 100,000 people over the age of 65, and Alaska ranked lowest, with 15.95 deaths. Florida had the highest total number of deaths with 1,405, but ranked 22nd in death rate at 43.01 per 100,000. 

“The CDC’s alarming statistics showing that falls among seniors are a leading cause of senior disability and death should be a call to action to all of us,” said Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-Calif.) who hosted the briefing in conjunction with the Congressional Prevention Caucus. “Senior falls are not inevitable, and therefore we need to focus our federal policies and programs on proven strategies to prevent falls and their disabling and often fatal consequences.” 

This statistic alone has caused many insurance companies to sit up and take notice, which includes spending time educating their clients on the need to be attentive to what should to be done to lessen the likelihood that a slip and fall will occur. They are encouraging their clients to chose the right floor surface, to implement a written, comprehensive, floor safety program that is attentive to the aging population, and to also train their staff accordingly. “Mitigating risk involves more than lip service”, stated Mr. Brian Siegel, VP of Risk Management for Westgate Properties, “and the time is coming that insurance companies will require quantitative proof that an organization fully understands the need to be attentive to this causation of injury and that they have initiated corrective steps,” 

“Where there are people walking on any type floor surface, the possibility of a slip and fall occurring when the surface gets contaminated is accelerated greatly”, said Mr. Russ Kendzior, President of the National Floor Safety Institute. It is incumbent upon retailers to understand the dynamics behind this slip and fall dilemma. Retailer’s that are up-grading their facilities to provide a ‘fresh look’ to give their customers a new experience will many times install a new floor surface. These new floor surfaces are generally hard stone such as marble, granite, or even polished terrazzo. Some of these surfaces can become very slippery when they are wet. 

Tile manufactures specify certain tiles that have a high slip resistance value when wet to be used when exposed to various contaminants. A sure way to demonstrate to one’s insurance company that the slip resistance of a floor surface has been considered in a facility is to provide the insurance company with the coefficient of friction data supplied from the tile manufacturer. This will show the insurance company that the retailer was aware that the coefficient of friction (COF) was important when the floor surface was selected.    

Performing additional COF testing ‘after’ the surface has been installed and doing so periodically over the year will also demonstrate to the insurance company that the retailer is making sure the floor surface is receiving the proper maintenance.   How these floor surfaces are maintained can have a profound impact to the number of slip and fall incidents. Since this may require a complete change in behavior for the facility staff from how the surface was maintained beforehand, (such as a carpet or a floor that required the application of a floor finish), it must be recognized that how the surface is maintained will have to change in order to keep safety in its place. If this is not recognized the consequences can result in an increase in slip and fall incidents, increased insurance costs, and the possibility that negligence may now become an issue in a lawsuit. 

When evaluating a loss control strategy, a facility will want to understand that the previous losses and forecast losses are factored into the premium promulgation by the insurance provider. By implementing a focused and measurable loss control strategy to reduce your cost of risk for slip and falls, you will immediately see savings on future premiums, and will endear your company to the insurance provider. Furnishing any documentation that shows your company has recognized the need to be aware of the slip coefficient of friction on a floor surface will enhance your position with your insurance provider. It will also allow you to request a price consideration when your insurance coverage comes up for renewal since slip and fall claims will have been reduced with your proactive program. 

The legal community is beginning to recognize that facility operators have options that can improve floor safety and reduce slip and fall claims. When retailers take precautionary steps that include a method that records slip resistance values, such evidence can dispute claims of negligence, should a slip and fall occur, and go a long way towards making a claim go away. 

With the aging population and the increased cost of insurance, it is vital that companies realize the importance of floor safety. The legal professionals are setting on the sidelines and are ready to pounce when companies don’t demonstrate a proactive approach to reducing slip and fall injuries. You can reduce insurance costs with a program that includes identifying the right surface for the right setting, measuring the slip resistance value of the surface regularly, and implementing a maintenance regiment that keeps floor safety 
in first place. 

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