Stopping the Falls

Slip and falls are a leading cause of litigation in commercial interiors. With changes coming to the measurement and specification of ceramic tiles for flooring, here’s how to best protect yourself and your firm.

by Elianne Halbersberg

Slip and fall accidents by customers, employees and pedestrians are a nightmare every commercial building owner and facility manager wants to prevent. With 85 percent of workers’ compensation claims attributed to slip and fall accidents on slick floors1 and flooring materials contributing to more than 2 million fall injuries per year2, there’s real cause for care when it comes to specifying the right flooring and the possible liability associated with getting it wrong.

With this in mind, we worked with the Tile Council of North America (TCNA) to develop the following FAQ about the coming changes to the testing and reporting of coefficient of friction (COF) values for ceramic tile, and how they might affect designers’ own legal liabilities in slip and fall cases. Note that this information is provided only for guidance/informational purposes, and is not offered nor meant to be taken as legal advice.

what is cof and how does it affect the legal liabilities of interior designers?
When we think about tile, there are physical properties that are the same, regardless of who makes the measurement or how it’s being measured. Size and weight are fixed physical properties, but coefficient of friction (COF) is a relationship. The COF of a tile is different for every consumer who walks on that tile, because coefficient of friction is the relationship between what’s on the bottom of a customer’s shoe and the surface of a tile. The surface remains the same, but the frictional requirements are different depending on the speed the person is walking, whether there are contaminants on the floor, and the surface on the bottom of their shoes.

Until the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) A137.1 standard for ceramic tile, approved in 2012, there were no rules requiring a minimum COF value for tile flooring. Many designers cite a 0.6 static coefficient of friction (SCOF) value as a requirement of the Americans with Disabilities Act, but in fact, that value was recommended by the Access Board and was never a requirement of the act itself.

The new ANSI standard sets a minimum dynamic coefficient of friction (DCOF) rating of 0.42, as measured by the new DCOF AcuTestSM in a laboratory, for level interior floors expected to be walked on when wet.

how does the change in cof testing affect a designer’s liability when it comes to specifying floor tile?
One of the things that’s relevant when discussing legal liability is the question of what is a reasonable expectation? It’s a reasonable expectation that if the standard for ceramic tiles says a tile that has a DCOF AcuTest value of less than 0.42 should not be used in a wet area, the designer should be cognizant of the standard and make sure they are specifying a tile with the proper DCOF value. If a designer ends up in court due to a slip and fall claim, it will be hard to argue that he or she wasn’t aware of the requirement when the ANSI standard clearly references the 0.42 DCOF value.

In the event that a client requests floor tiles with a DCOF value of less than 0.42, it is recommended that the designer secure documentation indicating that the client has been informed, per the ANSI standard, that the tile is not recommended unless it will be walked on only when dry.

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