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How to select a proper floor mat - February 2017

This reference note offers some simple guidelines on selecting and installing the right matting system for the right purpose.

 Tribology is the study of the interaction of sliding surfaces. In slips and falls, tribology is associated with the following:

1. Friction between the shoe sole and the floor surface,

2. Lubrication at the interface or contaminate on the floor surface, such as water, grease or oil, particulate soil etc., and

3. Wear of floor surface and shoe sole material over time.

All three are important when assessing potential for slips and falls, and all three are important when selecting interventions to prevent slips and falls.

Mats are more than a place to wipe your shoes when entering a building or to stand on when performing manual work tasks. When selected and installed correctly, mats can reduce the likelihood of slips and falls and reduce lower extremity and back discomfort.

When Do I Need a Mat?

Mats might be warranted when a pedestrian walking or working surface does not meet slip resistance requirements, such as when moisture, grease, oil, dirt or other contaminates are present. Examples include at building entrances, grocery produce areas, around salad bars, water fountains, sinks, restaurant kitchens, machinery process areas, near food counters, and anywhere spills, water, dirt, grease, etc. is part of the environment. Some mats have anti-fatigue properties that might be useful for areas where employees stand in one place for a long period of time. Mats can also be used as a temporary fix until floor surface repairs can be made if surface is damaged.

There are two types of matting systems; entrance mats or “front of the house” mats and multi-purpose mats or “back of the house” mats. Whether “front of the house” or “back of the house,” a strategy needs to be employed to select the right mat for the right environment. Too often, little thought is given to matting systems. It is easy to subcontract to a vendor the selection, cleaning and replacement of loose-lay mats (see below) used at entrances and back of the house. Mats that are dirty, worn and old offer little slip prevention benefits.

Entrance Mats

Entrance matting improves overall floor maintenance by scraping and absorbing soil particles and moisture from footwear to keep the floor in a clean dry condition. Can an entrance mat system improve the “tribology” of a floor? Yes, because mats remove moisture and particulate soil from the shoe sole and heel, thereby, reducing likelihood of slips and protecting the floor finish from unnecessary wear. It is estimated that 80% of soil entering a building can be trapped within the first 15 feet on a carpeted surface.

There are four types of entrance mats:

  1. Well and grate system: Requires a structural commitment. This type of mat funnels and drains moisture down and is a permanent fixture at entrances.
  2. Glue-down: Installed at any time. The floor surface can be damaged by the adhesive. Some types require a metal strip and rubber reducer that is screwed into the floor as the finished edge. Replacement is time consuming.
  3. Recessed: Permanent mats inserted into a well or recessed surface that become the finished floor. The finished height of the mat should be at least flush with the lip of the well and not represent a trip hazard.
  4. Loose-lay: Should stay in place without the use of adhesives, frames, screws or duct tape. Be aware of the type of backing. Guard against damage to underlying floor surface as these mats may harbor mold and mildew. Air should circulate through the mat.

Recessed and loose-lay entrance mats are the most common. Surface selection depends on expected foot traffic and whether the mat is used in winter or wet climates. The primary purpose of a mat is to remove moisture and soil from the shoe. If an inferior mat is selected, it will wear quickly, saturate with water quickly, and not perform as it should. More durable and absorptive entrance mats cost more but they usually last longer and do the job better.

The depth of the mat is very important. The number of steps required to effectively scrape and wipe feet depends on climate. As climate improves, the demands on floor matting become less intense. In snow strategies, a minimum of 10-12 walking steps is a good guide to the depth of floor mat needed. Rain strategies can gauge about 8-10 steps and dry strategies require about 6-8 steps.1 Mat depth “credit” is given for the following:

1. Overhangs (if any)

2. Outside mats (if any)

3. Vestibule mats (if any)

4. Walk-off mats inside the building

5. Type of flooring inside the building

A rule of safe practice is that footprints or water prints should not be seen beyond the last entrance mat. See Figure 1.

If the walkway surface material inside the building can be slippery when wet (i.e. polished and waxed vinyl composition tile, terrazzo, polished granite/marble, glazed and smooth ceramic tiles etc.) and there are no interior mats, or there are mats but by design and installation they do not,

  • Adequately absorb moisture from footwear,
  • Adequately remove soils from footwear,
  • Or perform well because they are dirty... then entrance safety improvements are needed — including selecting the right matting system.

Foot grills may not perform well alone on wet, snowy days as they can saturate quickly; therefore, an absorptive walk-off mat inside the building is needed. The walking depth strategy would extend from the outside edge of the vestibule mat to the inside edge of the walk-off mat. However, if there is an overhang, the walking depth would include the overhang depth.

Multi-Purpose Mats

Back-of-the-house mats are multi-purpose mats that can absorb liquids, elevate workers above standing water, provide a slip resistant working or standing surface, and/or provide anti-fatigue properties.

Absorbing or retaining spills is common for mats used in grocery produce areas, around water fountains and sinks, etc. When selecting mats for this purpose, consider liquid absorption characteristics; containment of spills and debris; and durability, such as grocery cart traffic and foot traffic.

Mats with slip-resistant surfaces are useful in standing work areas where grease and oil are common, such as in restaurant kitchens, manufacturing and food process areas. These mats have durable slip resistant surfaces that are also easy to clean. When the surface is wet, some mats can be more slippery than the surface they rest on. Test by kicking the wet mat and then kick the adjacent floor surface to determine which is more slippery. Drawbacks of mats are that some can interfere with wheeled equipment, and moisture and debris can be tracked onto other areas if wrong mat is selected. It can be difficult to practice “clean-as-you-go” when mats are in place.

Anti-Fatigue Mats

Anti-fatigue mats are common at work areas where prolonged standing work is performed, like retail cashiers, machine operators and packing workers. Standing for long periods of time has been implicated in a number of health issues, including lower extremity discomfort, pain and fatigue, and low back discomfort. Research has shown that discomfort may be due to venous pooling rather than muscle fatigue. Subject ratings of perceived fatigue from various flooring and matting materials have been shown to be more helpful than quantitative measures when evaluating the physical benefits of anti-fatigue mats among alternatives.

Research has also shown material that is too soft can be associated with increased lower extremity fatigue and discomfort, while harder or stiffer surfaces were most often associated with low back discomfort. No study has yet to recommend a specific material for anti-fatigue matting. When selecting anti-fatigue matting, experiment with different types and be sure to involve the worker in the final selection.

Mat Selection

Use the following guidelines when selecting mats:

  • Select a mat design and surface material based on expected environment and traffic load.
  • Select mats whose edges will not curl by design. These mats often have a beveled edge or a flat edge to reduce tripping exposure. Mats more than ¼ inch thick should have tapered edges to prevent tripping.
  • Select mats with non-slip backing that resists movement.
  • Select mats that guard against damage to underlying floor surface caused by mold and mildew.
  • Select mats that are easy to clean. A mat’s weight, size and openings determine how difficult or easy it will be to clean.
  • When practical, a single larger mat should be used instead of multiple smaller mats.
  • Mats and runners should be laid out to avoid overlap or gaps between them and to provide a continuous walkway path.
  • When selecting anti-fatigue mats involve workers and offer options.

Mat Usage

Use the following guidelines when using mats:

  • Routinely inspect mats for damage and excess wear, and replace as necessary.
  • Store mats or runners to prevent edges from curling.
  • Do not place mats or runners against objects that don’t allow the mat to lie flat (e.g. against machinery and process areas, doors or furniture).
  • Mats should receive scheduled cleanings, especially in environments exposed to snow, ice and rain.