The new slip resistance requirements in IBC

A BOT-3000E display after four runs using the procedure in American National Standards Institute (ANSI) A137.1, American National Standard Specifications for Ceramic Tile.

However, neither ANSI nor TCNA give any method of evaluating any or all of these variables. So what is a specifier to do? Slip and fall awards can at times far exceed $1 million in cases where, for instance, someone incurs brain damage and must be supported for life. For this and other general reasons of good practice and respect for safety, it behooves the specifier not to be negligent in setting slip resistance requirements. Negligence is the key word in litigation.

Slip resistance testing can be conducted in the laboratory or in the field, the latter of which may be required by some municipal building inspectors. The DCOF is not always what the manufacturer lists, since it may have been tested years before when raw materials and manufacturing conditions were different.

It is best for all concerned when the proper slip resistance is dictated by a legitimate and legally defensible specification and testing. After all, no one wants the headache of remediating the situation after installing the wrong flooring.

The ANSI A137.1 slip resistance test is conducted using only the BOT-3000E digital tribometer—a relatively recent slip test device made in the United States and backed up by human traction research carried out in Germany. However, it has no situation-specific safety standards (e.g. 0.42, 0.60, 0.80, etc.) for various circumstances.

What’s a specifier to do?
Fortunately, there are detailed situation-specific recommendations in Standards Australia (SA) HB 198:2014, Guide to the Specification and Testing of Slip Resistance of Pedestrian Surfaces, which has been in use Down Under, with minor modifications, since 1999. The authors believe this provides the best justification for a specifier to set guidelines.

The Australian standard uses a different instrument—the pendulum skid tester, which has been in use continuously for pedestrian slip resistance since 1970, and is now a national standard in at least 49 nations. (This is thanks to European Standard EN 13036-4, Road and Airfield Surface Characteristic–Test methods Part 4: Method for Measurement of Slip/Skid Resistance of a Surface: The Pendulum Test). It is employed for ASTM E303, Standard Test Method for Measuring Surface Frictional Properties Using the British Pendulum Tester, and has been endorsed by the Ceramic Tile Institute of America (CTIOA) for all types of flooring since 2001. (See CTIOA’s “Floor Safety Reports: No. 1, Portable Methods” from 2001).

The Australian standard recommends minimum wet pendulum test values (PTVs) for some 40 different situations, such as:

  • supermarket aisles (PTV > 12);
  • hotel bathrooms and laundries (> 25);
  • restrooms (> 35);
  • wet treads or landings on stairs (> 45); and
  • commercial kitchens or swimming pool ramps and stairs leading into water (> 55).

For reference, the ASTM standard for basketball courts—that is, Section 4.5 of ASTM F2772-11, Standard Specification for Athletic Performance Properties of Indoor Sports Floor Systems—specifies a dry PTV between 80 and 110. (Basketball courts are very slippery when wet, which is why considerable effort is devoted to wiping up sweat off the floor after a player falls.)

The authors believe using the Australian standards indicate a design professional has employed due diligence, best possible practice, and all that is reasonably practicable—in other words, he or she was not negligent. Many of the authors’ domestic and international clients have been using this test method for years in the United States to choose appropriate flooring, due to lack of any similar domestic safety criteria.

If installed flooring is found to have insufficient wet slip resistance, there are ways of remediating it—at least to some extent—in situ. However, safe flooring should really be specified and installed in the first place. Lubricants on indoor floors can include not only tracked-in rainwater and snow, but also spilled beverages, furniture polish, WD40, perfume, cooking oil, and debris (e.g. food, sauces, and dust).

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10 comments on “The new slip resistance requirements in IBC

  1. I have not been this confused about any subject in a long time. This article seems to be trying to describe a can of worms or possibly more applicable, a Medusa head of snakes, where the liability of all parties is in jeopardy due to the fact that a test was withdrawn with no replacement and we cannot trust the tile manufacturer’s COF numbers to be accurate. So, the specifier, or the firm for which the specifier works, is liable for any accident on the floor because there is no objective criteria to use to make a decision of what material or product to use. Then Figure 1 says the Architect is liable at the purchase order event, when the Architect didn’t write the purchase order. How does the Architect know that the slip resistance is not as advertised when a purchase order, that the Architect didn’t write, is created? This implies that the Architect needs to pay, out of their own pocket, for testing all the different types of tile on the project because there is no way to know that the slip resistance is not as advertised.

    The same dynamic occurs when the Contractor has no idea whether the tile in the box that was delivered is not to spec. Then the Contractor needs to test all of the tile to protect themselves.

    Then post-installation, according to Figure 1, the installer is liable? The poor installer didn’t pick the tile, the Architect did and barring a truly horrendous installation, it would be the tile that is slippery, not the installation. But, once the tile is installed, that is when the installed tile can be tested and if it does not pass, is it the tile manufacturer’s fault? After all, the Architect relied on the manufacturer’s (untrustworthy?) data to select the tile. And, there is no reason in the world why the architect should be required to pay to test a tile, that for all intents and purposes, does not yet exist, because there has only been a purchase order. What are they supposed to test? And, finally, the Owner is not going to accept liability for a tile installation. They will go back to the Contractor and Architect to get whole.

    So we have a Hobson’s Choice, or a Catch-22. I have read my share of ridiculous standards over the years, but this one leads the pack further than Usain Bolt could ever dream.

  2. This article is scholarly, detailed, well-researched and completely silly. Utterly ignores the reality of the construction process and the responsibility of the parties in the construction process.

    The recommendations here are almost completely unfeasible as presented and are unlikely to be adopted in any North American construction project.

    Also, the tile standards cited are not new, they were introduced in 2012 IBC, which is now being superseded by 2016 IBC. The article might be new.

  3. The bio mentions that George Sotter is a member of ASTM, but there is a notable lack of mention of ongoing slip testing activities in Subcommittee F13.10 related to standardizing the slip testing industry. This group has already published F2508-16 Standard Practice for Validation, Calibration, and Certification of Walkway Tribometers Using Reference Surfaces and is working on additional standard WK47077 New Practice for Using Walkway Tribometry Data in Estimating Pedestrian Slip Resistance Thresholds and Comparative Traction.

    There has been extensive research relatively recently at the University of Southern California that finally attempts to correlate slip test (tribometer) measurements to actually slipping tests on human subjects. The ASTM standards are born out of some of this research and may soon become THE standard for slip testing. Our firm rarely gets involved with slip testing. However, the industry generally seems to be fragmented, with various experts defending their own test equipment (which they often have a financial interest in promoting), and, therefore, standardization appears to be difficult to achieve.

    The BOT 3000 device noted in this article did not correlate well with human slip tests in the USC study. However, there are two pendulum-type devices (also mentioned in this article) that did perform well. I think mentioning this research and the ongoing work at ASTM would be helpful and perhaps provide some clarity to readers of this article, at least about the direction of the industry.

  4. My feet are like very good bourbon. (yes, really) To make really good Bourbon (25, 50 and 100 year blends) requires a specialized person with extraordinary taste buds. Their taste buds are so precise and sensitive, that they can detect even the most minute changes to the blend, allowing them to come up with an amazing final product. As a manufacturer of waterproofing products (including deck coatings) I’ve been asked many times over the years to show that my deck coatings will not be a slip hazard, especially when wet and/or raining. It’s easy to add slip resistant additives to sealers, but will they really work, especially when wet? I’ve come to trust my feet over any test out there.
    1. Apply deck coating to large sample board (4’x4′)
    2. Allow to fully cure.
    3. Put on old dress shoes that the souls have worn out (so they have the least amount of rubber/traction)
    3. Rub your feet over the floor surface. Most importantly is to put one foot way out front (almost at 45° to the floor surface) and rub your shoe back and forth. Most people slip when their foot is extended forward, and when they set it down on the floor it slips forward. If it feels too slippery, don’t use it.
    4. Pour water on the sample So there is a lot of standing water on it) and repeat step 3. The wet test is the most crucial one. After you do this a few times, one quickly develops a good sense and feel as to what is acceptable and what is not.

    The conflict: In principal, the rougher the surface, the better the traction. BUT…, it’s much harder to clean. All too often, the demand for easy cleaning influences the decision leading to materials that simply don’t have sufficient slip resistance.
    I am all in favor of standardized (measureable) tests that will give dry and wet friction results. If you ask me, build a device mimicking a human foot at 45° angle to the floor, and mount a dress show that the grooves on the souls have been ground smooth. Now push this device down and forward on the floor (both wet and dry) and you should have a pretty good idea where you stand. Maybe additional tests will need to be added to resemble other conditions, but this should give you a pretty good idea on where a product really stands.
    I have seen slip resistant test results all over the place, which in many cases did not reflect how that product will behave in the “real world”. I then performed my own dry and wet tests while wearing dress shoes and could pretty much convince any specifier on the spot as to whether a product was acceptable or not. Don’t believe me? I’ve been manufacturing/selling deck coatings (and many other waterproofing systems) for over 30 years. Sqft of installed product: Millions! Lawsuits: ZERO!
    This really isn’t that complicated.

    1. With all due respect, perhaps you should stick to your professional expertise in manufacturing and selling deck coatings and waterproof systems. Please contact me for further consultation and National standard compliance. I am on linkedin and will send you any factual information, codes, standards or videos to either refute, backup or help explain where you may be confused or ill advised.

      1. Scott: I would be interested in speaking with you. so, kindly call 301-775 -3602 when convenient for you……..thanks.

  5. Hi Scott, I am adjuster investigating a slip and fall claim in FL. I am tasked with reviewing a photo/video of a slip and fall on exterior ceramic tiles and they are asking if the tiles meet FL code. Would you kindly be of assistance? Are there any codes in FL speaking to the surface texture of exterior ceramic tiles in a commercial setting?

    1. David,
      I hope you got an answer before this time. Yes there is a commercial code requirement ANSI A137.1 and the method of testing A326.3.

  6. Minimum DCOF values for level surfaces from the new ANSI A326.3 (with specific project conditions):

    Interior, Dry (ID) 0.42 (p.2 of the standard)
    Interior, Wet (IW) wet with water 0.42 (p.2)
    Interior, Wet Plus (IW+) wet plus (as declared by manufacturer; including barefoot areas) 0.50 (p.5)
    Exterior, Wet (EW) wet 0.55 (p.5)
    Oils/Greases (O/G) 0.55 (p.6)

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