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Complaint After Coming A Cropper On Concrete

Q : I am the safety manager of a large leisure centre and have recently received a complaint that the external steps leading to the rear of the centre are dangerous. The stairs are formed from cast concrete and have been in place for years; I’m not aware of any slips happening on the stairs over at least the last 12 years. A deep canopy was fitted above the steps when they were made and a handrail has always been in place. The step’s nosings are painted every year with yellow paint. I take the complaint seriously, but don’t see how I can modify the steps to make them safer without suggesting that they are ripped out completely.

A : ‘Ripping out’ the steps might be a start, but unless you can fit something better, I wouldn’t ask your managers for expenditure just yet!

If the steps are made from cast concrete, their walking surface (‘treads’) should be more than able to prevent people from slipping.

If the concrete surface has been modified in some way (i.e. made smoother, perhaps by over-coating the treads with trowelled concrete, which I have seen previously), the surface itself might be slippery when wet. However, the texture of cast concrete would normally be enough to allow safe use in wet conditions.

You didn’t mention whether the complaint concerned slipperiness of the steps in the wet, but we can assume that was the case. If the steps were slipper y when clean and dr y, then something more complex is to blame. That might include the complainant using par ticularly slipper y footwear, or the isolated presence of a slippery material on the treads.

The fact that the steps are covered with a canopy might stop most wet contamination from reaching them, but cer tainly won’t completely stop them from getting wet. As you might have learned from this column in the past, it doesn’t take much rainwater to make a sur face slipper y … a few drops can be sufficient to cause a slip. On that basis, the steps will be wet at times, no matter how good your canopy.

Two factors spring to mind with this case. The first is the dimensions of the treads (their ‘going’ and ‘rise’).
Carefully measure these dimensions and compare them to the version of the Building Regulations current when the steps were installed. I’d also suggest you consider the recommendations of BS5395. When measuring the dimensions of the steps, also consider the consistency of the dimensions – variations of just a few millimetres can result in users stumbling and falling.

The second factor to look at is the paint used to coat the nosings. Current regulations recommend that step nosings are highlighted with a contrasting colour to make them easier for users to see. On external concrete steps nosings are often painted. You don’t mention whether anti-slip paint was used (normally containing anti slip particles, such as carborundum or even sand), nor do you state how quickly the nosings paint wears.
Paint on high wear walking surfaces can wear very quickly. If the nosings were painted with smooth paint, the concrete texture might show through the paint and still provide slip resistance.

However, as more coats are added (every year, as you say) the contribution of the substrate concrete

will diminish.

You also don’t mention whether the same type of paint is always used. Confirm with your estates department (or the guy who paints the steps!) that the paint specification hasn’t changed.

If a rough (anti-slip) paint was used originally, then a smooth paint applied when the nosings were last painted (once the anti- slip paint was worn during use), the difference in slip resistance could be severe.
In my experience, investigating stair safety is far more complex than simply assessing the slipperiness of a floor surface. There are far more variables to worry about. CFJ Dr. Paul Lemon spent many years as a Senior
Scientist with HSE, where he specialised in slips and trips. During that time he designed the HSE Slips Assessment Tool (SAT) and led most of HSE’s research into flooring slipperiness. He is now an Associate with a private consultancy (Hawkins and Associates) investigating slipping accidents and acting as a slips and

trips specialist.


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