According to the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, in one year there were approximately 1.4 million non-fatal falls for ages 4 to 19 that resulted in emergency department visits. It already comes as a challenge for schools to keep students safe during inclement weather but even more so when the snow and ice start earlier than expected.
When it comes to preventing slip and falls, schools must have a plan in place. This plan needs to take all types of inclement weather into consideration as well as ensuring that the school is prepared ahead of time in case of early ice and snowfall.
The first step of planning for winter weather months is how to handle snow and ice removal of school grounds. Make a list of all the areas this plan should cover including driveways, parking lots, sidewalks, drop-off and pick-up areas, and entrances. Consider all traffic such as buses, parent vehicles, student drivers, and of course, foot traffic including students, teachers, parents, visitors, and other school employees.
The next part of outdoor planning is determining the best times to clear these areas. Before school starts and before school ends, make sure these areas are clear and deicer is applied. Take into consideration how long it will take to clear each of these areas and apply ice melt or salt. Check product packaging for your deicer for melt times and incorporate that into the time it takes to clear important areas.
Prioritizing the areas to be cleared is also important. This will help organize the work to be done and save time. Try to avoid holding up traffic whenever possible.
Assign duties to staff that will create the most efficient snow and ice removal process. Be sure to watch weather reports and plan for the possibility of continuous rotation of clearing snow in areas, throughout the day, if it continues to snow.
Your plan should also include the equipment, such as plows, shovels, salt spreaders, deicer products, etc. for each area. What you use in driveways and parking lots may not be the same as sidewalks and other walking areas.
When using ice melt products, be sure to check how these products could affect landscaping or flooring inside the school. Some products could be harmful to the natural grounds surrounding the school in the long term.
Other products may be very difficult to clean when it gets tracked in, and could even cause permanent damage to flooring over time. Be careful when choosing products and be sure to include which products and equipment are appropriate for each area in your plan.
The first line of defense for slip and fall prevention, inside your building, during inclement weather is entrance matting. Entrance mats, when installed properly, can trap up to 90% of dirt, debris, and moisture from foot traffic. Waterhog entrance matting, for example, can hold up to 1-1/2 gallons of water per square yard and will stay flat. High-performance matting like this creates safe entrances and minimizes the need to continuously mop up at the door.
When using entrance matting to control the amount of snow, water, salt and other debris that comes in, it’s important that it be placed in a particular order.
Follow the 3-mat system when placing your matting:
Be sure to place mats directly next to each other. Gaps and spaces between mats will defeat the purpose of dirt and moisture collection plus creates a trip hazard. Mats should be placed on clean, dry surfaces and should not overlap.
Use industrial floor drying fans or at entrances to keep things dry. This is especially important during inclement weather to reduce possible slip and falls due to water being tracked in.
Make sure that wet floors and any walkways that have the potential to be slippery are well marked with safety signs. Caution signage is available for indoors and out, for icy conditions and wet floors. Cones and cone signs are also helpful to create barriers if necessary in certain areas should be avoided for safety reasons. Choose weighted options for outdoors so signage will stay in place no matter how windy it is.
No matter what climate you're in, or what season it is, it's always important for schools to have an inclement weather maintenance plan in place. Schools must be prepared for any type of weather and should make slip and fall injury prevention a priority. The best prevention is planning, so get started if you don't have a plan in place, or review what you have to see if it needs any improvements.
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Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Web-based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System (WISQARS) [Online]. (2003). National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (producer). Available from: URL: www.cdc.gov/injury/wisqars. 2019 Nov. 25.
CMM: Cleaning and Maintenance Management. “Keeping Walkways Free of Snow and Ice” by Greg MacDonnell (2014). https://www.cmmonline.com/articles/keeping-walkways-free-of-snow-and-ice.
CMM: Cleaning and Maintenance Management. “Six Steps to Prepare Your Facility for Winter” by Joel Craddock (2016). https://www.cmmonline.com/articles/six-steps-to-prepare-your-facility-for-winter.
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