Anti-fatigue mats are designed to accomplish two things: Provide long-term comfort that prevents ergonomic injuries, and reduce recordable slip, trip, and fall injuries. They shouldn't do one or the other; they should do both.
If your mats aren't achieving these two outcomes, something is wrong or missing. There's a good chance you're experiencing one of the following issues.
Here are 10 signs you need new anti-fatigue mats:
1. Eroded surfaces
Heavy use and steady exposure to various chemicals and particles have eroded the PVC/nitrile blend mat below. The erosion and flattening have created a slip hazard and clear ergonomic issues. There is no undoing either, meaning it's important to invest in a new mat.
The mat below is an example of an "extruded" mat. Extruding rubber is the easiest and cheapest way to make foam mats. The issue is that to extrude rubber you have to add a percentage of PVC compound, which significantly reduces the overall quality. PVC is prone to eroding, cracking, curling, flattening, and bloating from absorbing liquids/chemicals.
Erosion creates an uneven surface, inconsistent edges, and a clear slip hazard.
At AcroMat, our mats are made from a virgin, closed cell, 100% nitrile rubber foam that is molded rather than extruded. Molded, pure nitrile is impervious to liquids and chemicals; it will not erode over time.
Left: After 2 years of use, PVC mat curling at the edges and a PVC/nitrile mat eroding into the floor. Right: 100% nitrile mat fully intact after 5+ years of use.
2. Finding mats flipped upside down
28% of safety leaders say they have noticed mats being flipped upside down in their facilities. Mats are flipped over for two reasons. Either the top is severely damaged or the ergonomic support is long gone and they think the bottom might provide some comfort.
Safety hazards aside, finding mats flipped upside down can signify employees who are unhappy or frustrated with the state of their work environment.
When ergo mats are flipped upside down, the beveled edges are raised off the floor, creating a trip hazard and ergonomic inconsistencies. Upside down mats can also be a sign of disengaged employees.
3. Mats are too small
35% of our audience says the No. 1 complaint they receive from employees about their anti-fatigue mats is that they're too small and/or the wrong shape. Mats that are too small force operators to stand half on/half off the mats or, worse, constantly shift from the mat to a concrete surface.
We asked Certified Ergonomists Mary Plehal and Mike Janak about what happens to the body, ergonomically, when employees are forced to stand on the edge of their mats, or half on/half off, because the mats are too small or the wrong shape.
Mike Janak, ErgoFactor:
"Standing with only half the foot in contact with the mat promotes a non-neutral ankle posture that would be similar to standing on high heels. If the standing postures are static, and the worker stands at the edge of the mat for prolonged periods without moving his/her feet, then the non-neutral ankle posture may result in Musculoskeletal (MSD) injury."
Mary Plehal, Optima EHS:
"It changes the biomechanics of the ankle, increases instability and leg/low back fatigue. We are one long kinetic chain, like the old song: 'The foot bone's connected to the ankle bone, the ankle bone's connected to the leg bone, the leg bone's connected to the knee bone, etc.'"
In brief, mats that are too small throw off the "body's kinetic chain," putting your people at risk of ergonomic injury. Mats that are too small also lead to areas with pieced together rectangular mats, like you see above. This increases the risk of slips, trips, and falls.
As another ergonomist put it, "It would be better if they had no mat at all."
4. Mats keep sliding around
Sawdust, metal shavings, oils, and chemicals can peel mats away from the floor and cause them to slide. Specifically, mats made from PVC or a PVC/nitrile blend are not impervious to chemicals; rather, they absorb them. This leads to bloating, cracking and curling, and frequent sliding underfoot as a result.
Pure nitrile is impervious to liquids and chemicals, adhering to the floor even in wet/oily and dry/dusty environments. But the materials aren't enough; it's important to consistently clean your work area to ensure mats remain in place.
100% nitrile gripping the floor; combined with a custom shape and cutout for the lift table in the middle, the mat fits like a glove with no threat of sliding. Designed with AcroSketch.
5. Curling edges
Bacon buckles and curls as it cooks on the fryer. Coined "the bacon effect" by an AcroMat client, this same effect happens to mats that are poorly constructed and made from PVC or a PVC/nitrile blend.
Curling borders creates a trip hazard, forces workers to constantly look down at their feet during shifts, and makes it difficult to maneuver carts. Beyond the safety hazards, productivity can be significantly hindered.
Left: The PVC pad has buckled, lifting the edges of the mat off the floor in just 6 months. Right: Made from an exclusive design and materials, the AcroMat NitriTuf Diamond Series is the only diamond mat on the market guaranteed not to curl. Try a free sample mat.
6. Finding stacked mats
During safety assessments and mat inspections, we often find old and cheap mats stacked to create the comfort of a single, high-quality anti-fatigue mat. Beyond the tripping and slipping hazard this causes, stacking mats causes ergonomic and postural issues – contributing to MSDs.
According to Mary, "The biggest concern from an ergonomic point of view is this creates postural instability ... similar to working in high heels on a continuous basis. Stacking can lead to discomfort, fatigue, and MSD injuries."
"Stacking can lead to discomfort, fatigue, and MSD injuries," says Mary Plehal, Ergonomist.
Mary adds, "AcroMat mats are the most highly rated by employees in terms of comfort. Once they gain a reputation in a plant, employees will request them specifically. There is absolutely no need to stack AcroMat mats."
7. Ergonomic support is long gone
PVC anti-fatigue mats last 6-12 months. PVC/nitrile blend mats last 1-3 years. Pure nitrile mats – like the AcroMat 100-1 Series, 100-ESD Series, and 100-Cleanroom Series – have a life expectancy of 3-8 years depending on environment and care. In non-manufacturing environments, 100% nitrile often lasts beyond 8 years. Pure nitrile mats also do not flatten or lose their ergonomic cushion, ever.
But if you mats have begun to compress, or if they feel less resilient than in weeks past, how can you tell for certain if the ergonomic support is gone?
I. Eye test. If your mats looked cooked, they likely are.
II. Stand on the mats. Do you feel any support, or does the mat feel like the concrete below it?
III. Measure the thickness. Grab a simple ruler. If your mat was advertised as 5/8 in. thick and it's now measuring at 3/8 in., you've lost critical support.
IV. Check the lifespan. If life expectancy is 3 years and it’s been 5, it's likely time for new mats. But before you buy new, check the warranty. Premium mats should have guarantees against compressing, curling, and lifespans ending too early.
V. Talk to your people. The best way to evaluate the ergonomic state of your mats is to ask the operators who use them every day.
8. Disconnected mats being pieced together
Attempting to fill a workspace with disconnected mat pieces is an undeniable trip and ergonomic hazard. It limits productivity because workers are forced to constantly watch their feet. It also sends a message to your people that their safety isn't a priority.
Left: 4 mats pieced together, stacked, and overlapped. Right: Custom one-piece mat designed to fit in minutes with our online mat building tool, AcroSketch.
9. Tile seams coming apart
Modular tiles have to be snapped together like puzzle pieces. No matter how structurally sound, each tile system is filled with seams. Because they're made from a plastic material, or a PVC foam blend, they aren't impervious to liquids or chemicals. These embed in the visible seams over time, pulling them apart and creating trip hazards.
Conversely, custom anti-fatigue mats are made as a single piece with no seams. The 100% nitrile material is also impervious to liquids and chemicals, rejecting any attempt of products embedding within the mat like what happens with tiles.
Andersen Windows shifted from tiles to one-piece custom anti-fatigue mats after the seams were pulling apart and creating trip hazards. Case study.
10. Absenteeism is high
Absenteeism in manufacturing is higher than almost any other industry. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, MSDs are the leading cause of absenteeism.
According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, there is a direct connection between work environment and the development of MSDs. In brief, your work environment is either working for or against your people. The right anti-fatigue mat approach will prevent ergonomic injuries and eliminate slip, trip, and fall hazards. The wrong approach will actively cause both.
Where would you rather work?
If demands are high and your workers are missing too much time due to fatigue, injury, or pain, look closely at the mats currently in use in your facility. Are they supporting the people who rely on them every day? Are they sending your people home as safe and healthy as when they arrived? Are they helping you keep the people you have and attracting new hires?
Take the time to inspect your anti-fatigue mats. Start with the clear and preventable warning signs above.
Workstations come in all shapes and sizes. Your anti-fatigue mats should too.