America Gets Another Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Slip Resistance Guideline

Wet, bare feet are soft and essentially treadless, and on a slippery hard floor can be treacherous — leading to falls that sometimes cause permanent brain damage or worse. It’s crucial to provide slip-resistant surfaces at swimming pools where people (some of them sober) will be walking, playing or running (even against the rules) with wet bare feet. Test results should be demanded of such floors, meeting a high and well-justified standard of slip resistance.

If the floor is tile or other manufactured surface, testing should be conducted before installation and preferably after as well. If the floor is made in place, testing must be conducted after installation, but with advance assurance that the slip resistance will be adequate before construction funds are committed.

Unfortunately The Council for the Model Aquatic Health Code (CMAHC) of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued a voluntary guideline  that reads,

“POOL floors in areas less than three feet (0.9 m) deep shall have a slip resistant finish with a minimum dynamic coefficient of friction (DCOF rating) at least equal to the requirements of ANSI A137.1-2012 of 0.42 as measured by the DCOF AcuTest.”

To state the obvious, “Less than three feet deep” includes any areas that are less than one inch deep, and often are immediately adjacent to areas with no water at all. In addition, many such areas are sloped, putting even greater demands on the traction of bare feet.

A pool designer or owner seeing the 0.42 DCOF rating minimum might jump to the conclusion that this means that the surface will be slip-resistant and therefore safe. This is far from the truth. The 0.42 minimum stated in the AcuTest procedure was specified for areas where footwear is worn — with zero research, testing or justification for applying this minimum for barefoot areas. The referenced test is conducted using a hard rubber slider, hardly representative of bare feet. Hard rubber has the ability to grab asperities on the surface that soft rubber, or skin, just glide over.

The result of this Guideline is that many millions of dollars will be spent on surfaces that are not safe, and this will inevitably cause accidents, some of them serious. Some children who are victims may need some level of support for the rest of their lives, not an unheard-of situation in past pool accidents. Plaintiffs seeking compensation for damages will find that meeting the 0.42 minimum is used to justify the unsafe condition, and as a result may be denied financial compensation from the designers, builders, insurers, and owners of the pool.

The CDC does add in an Annex, “It is the responsibility of the user of this document to establish appropriate health and safety practices and determine the applicability of regulatory limitations prior to each use.” [Italics added.] Good advice! The ball is in the user’s court.

To what standard should these surfaces really be held? A standard for pool ramps and stairs leading to water that has been in effect since 1999 with little controversy is a minimum wet Pendulum Test Value (PTV) of 45, tested using a soft rubber pendulum slider to simulate bare feet. (For level decks, the minimum PTV is 40). The minimum of 45 is far more conservative, and more safe, than the CDC’s 0.42 wet DCOF minimum that is based on no research, a hard slider, and no real-world experience.

Safety Direct America can conduct both tests: the CDC’s test and the pendulum test that we recommend for safety. An afternoon at the pool should not turn into a tragedy for any family.

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