Why are we choosing aesthetics over safety?
As a society we are increasingly aware of statements and behaviours that put far too much emphasis on physical appearance. We understand the negative impact concerns about surface beauty can have on individuals and that all people have so much more to offer than just the way they look and yet when it comes to the safety of our built environment sometimes we are unwilling to comprise designer good looks for the welfare of the people using the space.
We all like nice looking surroundings, commercial and domestic. The prevalence of home decorating television shows attests to this but occasionally the wrong decision was made about which floor surfaces to install. Someone slips over, people raise concerns, the “slippery when wet” sign becomes a permanent installation. And so a company such as ours is called in.
At Safe Living we measure the slip resistance of a floor surface using a portable British Skid Resistance Tester according to Australian Standards AS4663. Many of the floor surfaces in public buildings entrance areas and bathrooms fall far short of the recommendations in HB198:2014 and so we conduct a sample non slip treatment on a spare tile or an inconspicuous area of the floor. Ideally a floor can be brought up to the recommendations of the Australian Standards with no visible change in appearance but sometimes a stronger application is required. The results of the treatment are visible if you look closely although the effect is uniform over the floor surface.
The WHS or Facilities Manager who called us in appreciates the importance of a safe floor but someone higher up in management argues that the floor will look different. They are right, it will look different. The wrong decision was made about an appropriate flooring material and now a right decision needs to be made to minimise the risk of slip accidents and yet they elect to do nothing, favouring beauty over safety.
Should an accident proceed to a court case, common law will ask was it foreseeable that the event occurred and was it reasonable to minimise the risk? Is it reasonable to retain a slippery floor surface because it looks good when an affordable alternative is available? Which do we care about more, the way our buildings look or the people who use them?
Jacinta Weiss is the joint Managing Director of Safe Living Pty Ltd a company specialising in verifiable non slip floor solutions and and the only Australian company that is a member of the National Floor Safety Institute of the United States.