Stay Afoot For Safety

Many products are available for every type of flooring challenge. From the entrance of a building throughout the complex, the use of matting can improve your visitors’ and staff experience. It can help keep the buildings clean, protect vulnerable surfaces, increase access, and provide a safe and healthy footing.

Getting It Right

The science of interaction between floor and foot is not difficult to understand, and every buyer should know certain fundamentals:

1. Floors--all floors--and water don’t mix.

2. Certain types of tile and resilient flooring may look good, but they are lethal when wet.

3. Standing for long periods on a hard floor damages a body.

4. Changes in flooring levels can cause injuries.


Estimates vary, but roughly 80 percent of dirt entering a building comes in on the soles of shoes, on wheelchairs or by the wind. Maintenance and continual cleaning to keep interiors safe are necessary and costly. When considering matting, note the following criteria:

1. Design of entry

2. Density of traffic

3. Weather

Entrance matting should do all the dirty work for your visitors without their noticing. You don’t see many people walking into your facility and pausing to wipe their shoes anymore--we are busy people! Depending on your situation, you may need a primary exterior barrier to scrape, a secondary one to clean, and perhaps even a third one to dry. In extreme cases, you may need to vary the materials--start with a brush system underfoot for aggressive cleaning, and gravitate through an open grid onto a carpet-like surface.

Health And Safety

By definition, design is driven by aesthetics, but that doesn’t count for much when a customer slips on those ”pretty” ceramic tiles in the changing room and breaks a leg. Slips and trips cause more accidents than anything else. According to the Centers for Disease Control, during 2007 there were over 27 million reported injuries; 8 million of those were fall-related and 19,000 were fatal.

In recreation and leisure facilities, special precautions must be taken for wet areas, particularly around swimming pools, in changing rooms, showers and children’s play areas. It is vital to remove as much water as possible in these areas in attempting to maintain a dry surface. In these cases, one consideration is an open-grid vinyl matting that requires little maintenance, is aesthetically pleasing, and helps drain water away towards the floor grilles. The same applies to swimming pool surrounds and children’s wet play areas.

At the Sierra Vista Aquatic Centre in Arizona, the area known as The Cove is a 35,500-square-foot facility with an 11,000-square-foot wave pool, a kiddy lagoon with slide, dive pool and two water slides. Attention was paid to the changing rooms and areas where water was a problem from people washing and stepping out of the showers.

After examining various options, the management decided to install an open-grid PVC matting. Stephanie Benson, Aquatics Coordinator for the city of Sierra Vista's Parks and Leisure Service, explains, “Here at The Cove, health and safety are of crucial importance to us. We annually entertain over 80,000 guests, and were having an issue with pooling water and slipping in our shower and locker-room areas. The majority of the facility is indoors, and is obviously a warm, wet environment. We really liked the fact that the matting contains anti-bacterial and anti-fungal additives for barefoot health and hygiene. This, together with the ease with which it can be rolled up, making it very easy to clean underneath, means that the matting has proved to be the perfect solution to our issues.”

Similar sentiments were expressed by Bill Gordon, Director of Operations, when over 300 feet of the same matting were recently laid around the swimming pool at The Sports Center Health Club, part of the Chelsea Piers Sports and Entertainment Center in New York. The complex entertains over 4 million visitors each year, and occupies 28 acres in Manhattan on the Hudson River.

In larger areas, such as locker rooms, anti-slip matting can also be purchased in large, square tiles. These semi-flexible tiles are used to create wall-to-wall coverage of seamless and slip-resistant flooring. The tiles will contour over rough or uneven surfaces and, where necessary, can easily be cut to fit against walls or around obstructions. As matting edges themselves can be the cause of trips, care should be taken when the matting encounters another floor material or an open space. When possible, consider using a matting tile that can have a ramp attached to create a safe transition from floor to mat surface.


Prolonged standing at work has proven to be the cause of progressive bone damage, varicose veins, poor circulation and water retention as well as back problems. Anti-fatigue matting is one solution for staff members who have to stand in one position or are constrained within a limited area, such as at information points, service counters and cash desks. Matting with the correct degree of bounce will offer important health advantages, such as comfort underfoot, good slip resistance and thermal protection from cold floors.

External And Handicapped Access

External safety is just as important, and precautions must be taken to reduce accidents on wet and muddy ground, and to create safe walkways for visitors or wheelchairs over rough or uneven terrain. A heavy-duty, all-weather rolled mat is ideal for these conditions. Monkey Jungle, a 30-acre park in Florida, sought a product that would meet the following needs:

1. Assimilate well with the natural environment

2. Provide a stable platform for wheelchairs and mobility carts

3. Fit in color-wise with the wood chips and foliage

4. Be flexible enough to contour to the unlevel and curvy paths

5. Be portable in order to be moved around and reconfigured

6. Provide a safe, non-slip surface that drains off the rain and performs well when wet.

Other problems can be caused by boardwalks to outdoor pools and other amenities, particularly if they are constructed with wooden duckboards, which become slippery when wet. The permanent all-weather solution is to lay slip-resistant matting on top. A similar solution applies to wooden or concrete jetties and waterside piers.

A flooring or safety-matting distributor should be able to provide case studies and advise a designer or facilities manager how to overcome potential problems by recommending the right solutions. “There are many types of matting available that are designed to provide solutions for specific problems: weather, maintenance, water, spillage or fatigue,” advises Sally Schomp of Plastex Matting Inc.

At the end of the day, every facility has to look attractive and efficient if it is to entice visitors. However, it also has to be safe. High-performance matting not only provides that vital health and safety element which makes so much difference to the visitor but also enhances the color and appearance of interiors. Most importantly, it shows that management really cares.

Christopher Sykes is an architect, journalist and technical copywriter. He has spent many years working in the architectural and building press, and is CEO of Pressential, a U.S./European PR company that specializes in the building industry.