Slip resistance requirements for specifying aquatic centre tiling

Safe Environments
By Carl Strautins*
Wednesday, 20 August, 2014



Slip resistance requirements for specifying aquatic centre tiling

Aquatic centres are notorious for slip and fall incidents due to constantly wet surfaces, soft bare feet and the potential build-up of contaminants such as sunscreen and body fats which can also become factors for accidents. Many of these accidents can be life threatening or cause permanent disability, in which case the cause may be attributed to a ‘slippery floor’.

While the cause of a slip and fall may be quite complex and multifactorial, in many instances the floor is attributed as the main contributing factor. This tends to be the case particularly as the slip resistance can be easily measured some years later, which may remove doubt of human factors such as an uncoordinated dive into the shallow end of a pool.

In many instances, the slip resistance of a surface within an aquatic centre is not measured or compared with national standards until it is too late and an incident has occurred. Safe design and adequate slip-resistant flooring first starts with good specification practices.

Slip resistance requirements

The main legislative requirements with slip resistance in mind extend to:

  • the Building Code of Australia (BCA), also now known as the National Construction Code (NCC), which generally includes the provisions of the Commonwealth Access to Premises Standards 2010 for people with disabilities; and
  • state-based occupational health and safety legislation.

The 2014 edition of the NCC now includes the quantification for the slip resistance of stair nosing and pedestrian ramps. The minimum requirements for materials suitable around swimming pools are outlined in Table 2.14, being Pendulum P4 rating or R11 ramp rating with the exception of a ramp steeper than 1 in 14, which requires a P5 or R 12 slip rating.

There are also requirements under Section D3 relating to disability access whereby all access ways and finishes within parts of a building required to be ‘accessible’ must comply with AS 1428.1 Design for access and mobility - Part 1: General requirements for access - Buildings. This requires that “all continuous accessible paths of travel shall have a slip-resistant surface”.

The state-based occupational health and safety (OHS) or workplace health and safety (WHS) regulations essentially provide a performance-based requirement that floors be non-slip and that the risk associated with slipping and falling be managed to eliminate or control the risk to as low as reasonably practicable (ALARP). There are also usually duties for responsibility for the design of the workplace, which extends to those who design, specify or supply floor surfaces intended for places of work.

A number of state public health guidelines exist for aquatic centres. Western Australia and the Northern Territory, for instance, recommend that non-slip flooring materials be used to reduce potential injuries to patrons and staff.

In assessing whether the risk has been reduced to an acceptable or tolerable level, guidelines published by Standards Australia are used as the gold standard.

Published in June this year, Standards Australia HB198 provides commentary on the NCC slip resistance requirements and guidance on the appropriate slip resistance in some other common applications.

HB 198 recommends the P4, B slip rating be used for swimming pool surrounds and shower rooms and one classification higher for the pendulum and wet-barefoot inclining ramp test for ramps and stairs leading into pools. Other common areas are outlined within HB 198, which is available to purchase from SAI Global, which publishes Australian Standards. The Royal Life Saving Society of Australia (RLSSA) Guidelines for Safe Pool Operation, Facility Design also recommend that where tiles are used, they should achieve Grade C slip resistance.

Australian slip testing methods

There are two Australian Standards for measuring slip resistance. The first deals with the classification of new surfaces, such as new aquatic centres or when selecting material for refurbishments. The second Australian Standard outlines testing existing floor surfaces to be used as a risk assessment tool to evaluate the risk of people slipping.

The Australian Standard for measuring the slip resistance of surfaces prior to installation is AS 4586, Slip resistance classification of new pedestrian surfaces. Architects, builders and designers specify surfaces using the classifications within the standard. There are four different test methods outlined which assess the slip resistance in a variety of conditions. These methods include:

  • Wet Pendulum Test Method
  • Dry Floor Friction Test Method
  • Wet-Barefoot Inclining Platform Test Method
  • Oil-Wet Inclining Platform Test Method

The Wet Pendulum Test Method (AS 4586 Appendix A) measures the surface with a test foot that swings down and slides across a surface that is wetted with water. Two types of rubber surfaces are used for this method. The height that the pendulum swings back up after sliding across the surface quantifies the slip resistance of the surface; the further it swings back up, the more slippery it is. There are two materials that are used for this test: a hard rubber material known as Slider 96 to simulate shoe sole material and a softer material known as Slider 55 to simulate people walking on a wet surface barefoot.

Surfaces are classified from P0, the slipperiest of surfaces, through to P5, the most slip resistant. The advantage of this test method is that it uses a portable instrument to measure the slip resistance before and after installation, whereas the inclining Platform Test Methods are unable to test the slip resistance in situ, post installation.

The Dry Floor Friction Test Method comprises a weighted 200 g foot with a 9 mm rubber disk of Slider 96 material. The test is designed to represent the force and contact area of a foot initially touching a floor surface. A load cell within the instrument then measures the force that is opposing the motion and provides a coefficient of friction (COF) to express the ratio of horizontal and vertical forces.

There is generally little need for this test around pools and within aquatic centres as most floor surfaces would be wet, and the relatively few incidents occurring under dry conditions may be related to the frictional characteristics of the floor.

The Wet-Barefoot Inclining Platform Test Method is a human-based test whereby two testers are connected to a harness with a floor panel that has water continuously flowing over it. The test panel is then tilted at increasing angles until the testers slip on the floor panel. The angle at which people slip then determines the classification of an A, B or C slip rating.

The Oil-Wet Inclining Platform Test Method is based on the same principle as the Wet-Barefoot Inclining Platform Test; however, in this instance the surface is covered with motor oil and the testers wear safety shoes, rather than being barefoot. This test provides the R9 through to R13 slip ratings.

Specifying the most appropriate classification

While there are four test methods to assess the slip resistance of flooring materials, the Australian Standard does not outline which test method is the most suitable. However, when an evaluation of test methods is viewed in line with the contamination and footwear likely to be used, it is quite clear that the most suitable test methods are the Wet Pendulum Test Method and the Wet-Barefoot Inclining Platform Test Method.

AS 4586 Testing method Contamination Footwear Example
Appendix A Pendulum Water Simulation of smooth-soled shoes External walkways, entry foyers (wet)
Appendix B Dry FFT None (dry and clean) Simulation of smooth-soled shoes Internal dry areas, retail shops in shopping centres
Appendix C Wet Barefoot Water Barefoot Swimming pool surrounds and showers
Appendix D Oil Wet Oil Profiled safety boots Commercial kitchens and industrial workshops

Many aquatic facilities, swimming pool surrounds and change rooms are incorrectly specified using the R rating obtained from the Oil-Wet Inclining Platform Test. The R ratings are simply not suitable as this test measures the slip resistance of a surface contaminated with motor oil and people wearing safety boots - a most unlikely situation.

While the Wet-Barefoot Inclining Platform Test Method is the preferred method to assess the relative slipperiness of floor surfaces, the challenge is that this slip test cannot be conducted on-site. This is where the pendulum test using Slider 55 material is useful to benchmark the initial slip resistance and to then assess any potential changes in slip resistance that may occur in-service.

On-site slip testing is recommended to be undertaken on a quarterly basis for the first year of a newly constructed aquatic centre to closely monitor changes in slip resistance once in-service. Quite dramatic changes can occur within the first few months from the installation process, cleaning, build-up of chemical residues and general wear and tear. Once the in-service slip resistance has stabilised, slip resistance testing may then be undertaken on a six-monthly or annual basis.

*Carl Strautins is a managing director of Safe Environments, a multispecialist consultancy operating in the building, construction and property management industries. Carl provides the necessary guidance and risk minimisation strategies required by architects, construction companies and facility managers to ensure they mitigate their risk to property risk. He is engaged on a regular basis to provide expert opinion for disputes and legal proceedings. For more information, visit www.floorsliptest.com.au.

Image credit: ©Misu/Dollar Photo Club

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