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Floor-Level Safety

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07/01/2012 - In previous articles, we have discussed hazards that are on the floor. This article addresses the hazards created because of the floor. No matter what you have for flooring hardwood, vinyl, area rugs, carpet or a combination of these, you must be sure that you prevent exposures to hazards that are a result of the types of flooring in your home.

The flooring with the highest health risk is wall-to-wall carpet. Under normal use, we love the feel of well-padded carpet, whether walking across it, laying on it, or playing on it. This is not, however, without risk.

Walking across the carpet with your shoes can cause toxins from outdoors (such as in the garden or storage shed) or at the workplace to enter the home. Between Fido, Fifi, and the crawling baby who test-flavors anything in reach, we can expose our loved ones kids and pets to dangerous chemicals or poisons. A regular vacuuming is good, but that alone can't get all that 'stuff' out of the carpet fibers once absorbed into them.

Carpeting holds dust and other allergens, which can enhance problems with anyone suffering from a lung problem or it can create a lung problem over time. If you or your kids are always sniffling in the house and it clears up when you leave, it could be your smoke-filled, dust-filled, toxin-filled carpet. Newly-installed carpet with all the glues and 'new carpet smells' can also trigger an allergic or bronchial reaction.

One final word on carpet before moving on. Under normal conditions, carpet is to be walked on and is relatively safe for that if installed correctly. Some carpets designed to be stain-resistant and other types of fibers when made, contain additional chemicals that can be deadly if released from the carpet. Normal wear may not be a problem. Under fire conditions, however, those chemicals such as hydrogen cyanide can be released into the air and those exposures will kill everyone in the house before your 'working' smoke alarm is able to detect the fire in the first place.

In our 20 years of marriage, wherever we have lived we have ripped out the carpet and put in vinyl or hardwood flooring with area rugs. The rugs, if secured properly so they don't become magic carpet rides in the house, can be easily cleaned and easily replaced if something we don't like gets tracked or dumped (or leaked) on them. But, in fairness to the carpet mentioned earlier, vinyl flooring under fire conditions may release formaldehyde, another known poisonous gas that ends up with the same result as the cyanide. The flooring, though, is less likely to hold toxins like the fibers in carpet.

Hardwood floors can be beautiful. A high-gloss finish looks great, just don't walk over it in socks!

The point? Whatever you have for flooring in your house, regular attention to cleaning, securing and anchoring, and the final finish you choose can increase or reduce your risk of injury or death. Choose wisely!

Randy DeVaul (safetypro@roadrunner.com) is a 30+ year safety professional and emergency response instructor. Comments are always welcome.

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