Feature Article - July 2009
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Water Hazard

Managing Aquatic Risk

By Daniel Margolis

Don't Let Safety Slip

The specification of flooring in locker rooms and around pools can be complicated, and safety should always be the priority. However, designers often get it wrong. By definition, design is driven by aesthetics, but aesthetics doesn't count for much when your customer has just slipped on those "pretty" ceramic tiles.

Every year slips and trips cause more accidents than anything else. According to the CDC during 2007 there were over 27 million reported injuries; 8 million of these were fall-related and 19,000 were fatal. Of course, not all of these happened in aquatic centers, but according to the National Floor Safety Institute, 80 percent of all falls that result in a claim happen on a wet and slick surface. The problem with aquatic centers and waterparks in particular is that their very reason for existing puts people in close proximity to large quantities of water, raising the accident risk considerably.

In an ideal world tile surfaces would be removed and replaced by a non-slip material, but this can be expensive and disruptive. A more cost-effective solution is to use some form of matting laid over the existing floor. As the mats themselves can be the cause of trips, care should be taken to minimize this risk. Although there are many types of mats and other surface remedies available, it is vital to choose a slip-resistant product that will remove as much water as possible and thereby retain a drier surface. Mats that have open-grid formats with raised profile underbars are particularly effective because they are designed to drain water toward the floor grilles so that their embossed surfaces remain virtually dry and highly slip-resistant at all times. These types of matting are very hardwearing yet comfortable to stand on, come in a wide range of colors and can be easily rolled up for cleaning the subfloor below. Being supplied in rolls, they are particularly effective as slip-resistant walkways and corridors.

Aquatic centers by nature are wet and warm environments, which makes them perfect for bacteria and fungus. However, this can be easily counteracted because many of these hygienic mats now contain anti-bacterial and anti-fungal additives which are ideal for bare feet.

In today's cost-conscious climate, it may be tempting to try to save money by omitting these common-sense underfoot safety precautions. After all you've just spent a lot of money on those beautiful tiles and it seems such a shame to cover them up! However, just remember that, according to the National Floor Safety Institute, the average cost to defend a slip and fall lawsuit is $50,000, and the average judgment in cases that go to trial is $100,000. Looking at those figures, doesn't it make sense to protect your customers and indeed your business by installing slip-resistant matting in your locker rooms and around your pool?

—Christopher Sykes, Architect