Multiple factors go into flooring selection — aesthetics, durability and cost among them. But if safety doesn't get equal consideration you're putting employees, guests and your brand at risk. 

Russ Kendzior, founder of the National Floor Safety Institute (NFSI), says slips, trips and falls are an $11 billion to $12 billion problem annually for the industry thanks to missed work days, increased insurance premiums and lawsuits. That's the bad news. The good news is that it's easy to minimize the risk. Kendzior offers advice on how to do it. 

rd+d: What's most important to consider when it comes to ensuring flooring safety?

RK: There are three legs to the slip-, trip- and fall-prevention stool. The first is selecting the right flooring for each area based on its use. Look for products that have been tested and verified for proper slip-resistance. A lot of tile manufacturers historically have tested their materials for coefficient of friction (COF), which is the measurement of a tile's frictional resistance. But they produced test results that weren't related to safety as much as to quality. As such, a restaurant's design team could be looking at flooring specifications and see test results that look favorable when in fact they're not. That's why new, more stringent standards designed to provide insight on safety were recently issued. (Editor's note: For information on new COF standards, visit the Tile Council of North America, www.tcnatile.com.) Operators have to look out for their own best interests and require that manufacturers provide accurate test results.

rd+d: What's the second leg of theprevention stool?

RK: Proper care and cleaning. The typical restaurant atomizes grease and oil into the air all day long. Some of it inevitably lands on the floor. If not properly cleaned, over time it builds up and you get a wax-like film that's tough to clean and slippery. And a lot of operators try to save a few bucks by buying cheap cleaning products, which add their own slippery film. We recommend products that are NFSI-certified and in compliance with ANSI [American National Standards Institute] standards. It's not a good place to cut corners when you consider the cost of just one significant accident.

rd+d: You've been an expert witness in hundreds of lawsuits. How serious an issue is this?

RK: It's huge. One incident can easily put a small restaurant out of business, not to mention the human cost of accidents. In one of the first lawsuits that I was retained in, a young girl working in a fried chicken restaurant slipped on a greasy floor. She put her hand out to catch herself and her arm went into the fryer vat. What made the case so sad was that everyone in that kitchen, including the manager, knew that the floors were always greasy and slippery. They'd slide around and make light of it. Injuries that severe are rare, but slips and falls happen every day in restaurant kitchens and it's a major risk.

rd+d: When guest injuries occur, what are the most common culprits?

RK: Tile floors that don't meet slip-resistance standards and/or aren't cleaned properly are big, but so is improper use of floor mats. Usually, either the mat is curled up or buckled or there are maintenance issues. It's very common, for instance, to see cleaning crews mop the floor before opening and immediately place mats back down on the wet floor. The surrounding area dries but the area under the mat stays wet and it glides like a surfboard when someone steps on it. With the aging of the population, in particular, these issues are more important than ever to consider — both in the back and front of the house.