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mt. st. mary mats

Sticking the Landing

Sept. 1, 2021
Adhesive-backed mats can help solve the floor safety puzzle for schools and universities.

Crafting a plan for safe and secure university campus is like piecing together a 1,000-piece puzzle that becomes more complex as you search for pieces. As campuses evolve, schools add new buildings, establish new procedures, and welcome more people to the decision-making process surrounding upkeep and updates. Indeed, if 2020 taught facility managers anything, it is that the mission can change quickly in unexpected ways.

Even before the pandemic brought a heightened attention to cleaning and sanitizing, universities of all sizes were being stretched thin trying to maintain and secure busy campuses. In fact, a recent study showed that custodial coverage at private higher education institutions alone grew 14% from 2007 to 2016. Each employee now is responsible for more than 35,000 square feet.

Those are the challenges confronted regularly at Mount St. Mary’s University, a Catholic university in Emmitsburg, Md., where about 80% of students live on campus and more than 70 student groups meet and hold events. The school also is home to the nation’s second-largest Catholic seminary and a national shrine visited by thousands each year. Add in the ever-present hurdles concerning unexpected weather, events and traffic, and there is a large maintenance and safety puzzle for the custodial team.

Like many puzzles, one of missing pieces was right at our feet. In the past two years, the staff has turned its attention to floor safety and slips, trips and falls. Specifically, the university has begun using a type of floor mat that has resulted in a safer and cleaner campus, happier students and staffers, and sharper-looking facilities.

 The floor safety puzzle

Slip-and-fall accidents send roughly 1 million people to emergency rooms every year. Multiply that by an immeasurable factor for the number of people who fall and don’t go to the hospital. Mount St. Mary’s and all higher education facilities aren’t immune to these kinds of accidents.

Thousands of students, employees and visitors constantly walk in and out of one of the 26 buildings on the Mount St. Mary’s campus. At the same time, their feet are tracking in rainwater, snow, leaves and dirt. Often, students and staff aren’t focused on the ground as much as what’s on their cell phone. It creates an environment ripe for a slip-and-fall accident.

The most common solution is rubber-backed floor mats. These have been used at entrances to the dining hall, residence halls, common areas, cafeterias, athletic venues, chapel, administration buildings — the list goes on. These mats are meant to soak up and absorb water and dirt from shoes, but they often come create issues that make problems worse.

For example, it can be difficult getting adequate floor coverage in wide or long entranceways. With a standard-sized 3-by-5-foot rubber-backed mat, it’s hard to do. After a stride or two, a person has walked off the mat and likely still has wet or dirty feet. The university tried to string together multiple mats, but they moved apart over time, creating an additional trip hazard caused by uneven surfaces that went from mat to floor to mat.

Also, thick rubber-backed mats may create a tripping hazard on their own. The continual foot traffic would raise the lip of the mat, shift it out of place or cause it to bunch up.

The school sought a new way keep floors clean, dry and safe.

Completing the puzzle

Mats provide traction and absorb moisture; Mount St. Mary’s also wanted mats that stayed in place, didn’t curl and bunch, and were ADA-compliant.

The adhesive-backed mats that the university put into their buildings has made a significant difference in each of the areas where the floor safety program needed to improve.

  • Doors and Floors

Mats with an adhesive backing and low profile addressed concerns about trip hazards and a lack of coverage in lobbies and other building entrances. These areas were problematic because of the change in surfaces from outside to inside, shoes tracking in moisture, dirt and debris, and even subtle height differences between surfaces. However, once installed, adhesive-backed mats stick firmly to the floor, meaning they won’t lift, bunch or shift. Students can step inside without worrying about where they step.

The adhesive-backed mats are able to fit the campus’ unique, large spaces in one piece or by laying multiple sections seamlessly together — no more patchwork solutions. The extra coverage enabled the university to provide longer walk-off sections in heavily traveled spaces or areas that transition between different surfaces. Additionally, the mats provided consistent, clean-looking, uniform matting across the campus.

The low profile of the mats enabled doors to swing over them more easily than thicker mats. The custodial team was able to run the mats up to door thresholds — something not always possible in some locations.

  • Athletic Venues
Areas beyond lobbies and entrances, particularly locker rooms, benefitted from adhesive-backed matting. The university had been using a hard, plastic grating in these spaces. It kept the school in compliance with health regulations, but they were heavy and difficult to maintain. They were also cold and uncomfortable for athletes’ bare feet and, because of water dripping below the grating, prone to a bad smell.

Immediately after Mount St. Mary’s the grating with anti-microbial versions of adhesive-backed mats, players and coaches praised the change. The matting was more comfortable for players, eliminated smells, and was quick and easy to replace. The latter part is valuable in a locker room, where blood and sweat frequently drip to the floor and dangerous bacteria may linger.

  • Common Areas

Students frequently had been using movable rubber-backed mats to prop open doors—letting friends into residence halls or events, moving, bringing in groceries, etc. This led to potential security risk. The adhesive-backed mats are not as easy to move, so people don’t use them to prop doors. As a result, the university is spending less time monitoring for open doors or replacing missing mats.

  • Campus Aesthetics

Some old rubber-backed mats look ugly. Crooked mats or mixed-and-unmatched flooring stand out to people. Adhesive-backed mats can be more aesthetically appealing, creating unbroken along hallways and graphic designs that personalize floors, add directions, or even identify social distancing markers.

Maintaining the puzzle

When it came to maintenance, cleaning rubber-backed mats was a physical drain and potential hazard to our staff. With each cleaning, the mats had to be rolled up and moved; some weighed hundreds of pounds when wet, and required multiple staffers and special chemicals to clean and maintain. That added hours of maintenance time per building.

The staff has found adhesive-backed mats much easier to clean. Absorbed water does not seep out, even with heavy foot traffic on a rainy or snowy day. Meanwhile, because the mats have no raised lip and a low profile, custodians can easily run a vacuum or floor scrubber directly over the mat without it budging.

As concerns over campus health and safety grew in the Covid-19 pandemic, adhesive-backed mats filled an important role in Mount St. Mary’s maintenance puzzle and enabled the university to focus on keeping students, staff and visitors safe in other ways.

About the Author

Sherry Vincion | Custodial Manager

Sherry Vincion is the Custodial Manager at Mount St. Mary’s University, a private, liberal arts university in Emmitsburg, Md.

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