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The purpose of matting2nd of October 2014
Few of us notice the matting system when entering a public building, but underfoot there is likely to be a smart solution that may be fulfilling several functions at once. Ann Laffeaty asks matting manufacturers what they consider to be the main purpose of a mat.
When arriving home on a wet or snowy day, it is second nature for most of us to wipe our feet on the doormat. But we are much less likely to do so when entering a retail store, an office block or any other public building. Here the mats tend to be designed to wipe our feet for us – whether by physically scraping away the dirt or by absorbing any moisture on our shoes, or both.
But professional mats often have other functions as well rather than simply to clean our shoes. Some are designed to improve safety, enhance comfort or create an impressive image as well as reducing cleaning bills by keeping the floor clean.
However according to 3M European business development manager Richard Jones, the main function of a mat depends entirely on who you ask. “For some people safety is the most important factor; for some it is image and others will consider cleanliness to be at the top of the list,” he said. “Different people will place particular importance on different functions.”
For example, he says a hospital will be most concerned about the safety of a matting system whereas image is likely to be a higher priority in the corporate headquarters of a prestigious firm.
“There is also a growing understanding of the role of mats in preventing slips and falls,” he said.
“In the US in particular there is a heavy litigation culture and it is important to prevent falls among staff, visitors and customers. If water is tracked into a building and there is no mat in place, the floor will quickly become sodden. And where there is water underfoot, people will fall over.”
He says most mats have an anti-slip backing made from PVC or rubber. “You don’t want a mat to be like a banana skin: it shouldn’t move around underfoot.”
An important function of some mats, says Jones, is to make life easier for staff in environments where operatives have to stand for long periods at a time such as on a factory production line, in a shop or behind a bar.
“These coil-type anti-fatigue mats are springy to the touch and will reduce the stress and fatigue experienced by people when standing,” he said. “It is all about worker comfort. If you are running a production line and you are constantly having people going off sick with bad backs and problems associated with poor posture, providing an anti-fatigue mat is a low investment that enables you to look after your employees.”
Another function of some mats is to reduce the quantity of contaminants in a building, says Jones. “Our anti-contaminant mats are like giant Post-it note pads that have up to 60 layers, all of which are tacky to the touch,” he said. “This removes any contamination from the shoes and at the end of the day, you can simply peel off the top layer of the mat and there are another 59 layers underneath. These mats are an ideal solution in hospitals, clinical areas and clean rooms and we have also sold them into nuclear facilities.”
Scraper mats can be used in hot or cold climates to capture sand, dust and snow before it can be tracked into a building, he says. And mats can also promote a company’s brand or business through the use of logos or slogans, says Jones. “Logo mats can be placed in the entrance way or even outside a building in countries where the weather is generally fine,” he said. “They are basically a form of advertising.”
Despite the many functions of a mat, Jones adds, a matting system is often an afterthought in a new-build or refurbished building. “At the eleventh hour just before the grand opening we will often be asked to supply a matting system,” he said. “It could be embarrassing for a company to have no mat in place – particularly if there is a recessed well with no mat installed since this could be a tripping hazard. Having no mat could also ruin the overall image of the premises - particularly if the company has spent a fortune on opulent floors and a grand entrance hall.”
Marketing manager of Superior Manufacturing Giselle Dirckx says the main purpose of a matting system is to clean and dry the shoes and to stop dirt and grime at the entrance of a building. “The need to prevent people from trudging in dirt, mud and grime from the streets is just as applicable in a dry and dusty environment as it is in a wet and rainy climate or in snowy and icy conditions,” she says.
However, she adds that matting systems have evolved into building ‘accessories’ that also offer stylish, functional and safety benefits. “A typical entrance matting system will have three zones,” she said. “The function of Zone 1 will be to scrape away any major dirt while Zone 2 will combine a scraping and drying function. This will remove any secondary dirt from the shoes along with any water that has been walked into the building. And Zone 3 will dry the shoes to prevent any slippage on interior floors.”
She says a key function of entrance matting is to preserve interior flooring. “Dirt can act like razors on interior carpet fibres, but mats are made from much stronger materials and can withstand this abuse,” said Dirckx. “In fact mats have become multifunctional. They are no longer simply a standard welcome mat at the door: with the many stylish entrance matting systems available in different colours, materials, designs, and combinations the entrance of a building can now provide an ideal first impression for visitors.”
Besides offering dust control matting for professional and commercial use, Superior Manufacturing also offers Notrax-branded industrial matting systems. “This line includes ergonomic anti-fatigue matting, anti-slip safety matting and specialised lines of electrostatic discharge matting,” said Dirckx. “We also offer fire-retardant welding matting and oil-resistant matting. These systems are aimed at specific industrial and engineering environments such as factories, assembly lines, logistics and distribution centres plus food production and processing environments.”
She says the most tangible value of a matting system lies in the fact it can help to reduce cleaning costs. “By trapping the majority of the dirt in one specific area you can reduce the overall cleaning burden in the rest of the building,” she said. “The indoor air quality due to reduced allergens and fine dirt in the air is also measurable.
“The intangible value of entrance matting is harder to quantify. The environmental impact can be estimated in terms of fewer cleaning chemicals used and fewer resources used for cleaning, along with a long-term reduction in waste from the renewal of interior flooring due to premature wearing. And the safety impact can be estimated by looking at slip and fall prevention and the number of accident claims that would result from those falls.”
However she agrees with Jones that matting systems are often overlooked when a building is designed. “The signal for purchasing an entrance mat will often be the first rain shower to leave major tracks throughout the building, particularly if it also causes customers to slip on wet interior floors,” she said. “At this point an effective solution will be required immediately and the options for integrated matting systems are more limited.”
If a building has no integrated recess frames, she explains, the installation of a matting system will become difficult. “A proper walk-off area where the shoes come into contact with the mat at least six times is recommended, but a lack of space is often a problem,” she said.
Country manager at Mountville Mats Pieterjan Defoort says a mat should perform a number of functions. “It should provide a safe walking surface and stop water and dirt at the door, as well as holding the water and dirt inside and preventing it from being tracked into the building,” he said. “It should also enhance the overall appearance of the building.”
Mountville offers a range of mats including standard dust-control products, logo mats and scraper mats as well as industrial anti-slip matting, anti-fatigue mat, and electrostatic dissipative mats.
“Mats can prevent accidents and lengthen the lifetime of the flooring and carpet,” said Defoort. “If you compare the cost of a mat with the average cost of a slip and fall accident or replacing a floor, the value mats can bring becomes clear.”
As an example of a mat that carries out more than one function he cites the company’s Waterhog Tiles. “These are carpeted tiles with a bi-level surface which scrapes the dirt away from shoes and stores it beneath the surface of the mat,” he said. “They can absorb up to four litres of water per square metre which means they are particularly suitable for high traffic applications and wet environments.”
He says the importance placed on a matting system tends to vary from country to country. “In some countries matting is a high priority whereas in others it is often overlooked and not perceived as important. In these countries, people may not purchase an entrance system or will choose one that is insufficient. It is important to opt for the right system for your building and most matting specialists will offer mat surveys to help people pick the right one for their facility.”
He says it is the job of manufacturers to continuously educate people on the benefits of having an effective matting system. “We must continue to offer training to sales representatives, and help our customers in evaluating facilities.”
So to return to our original question, what is the purpose of a mat? “It is essentially designed to keep out dirt,” said 3M’s Richard Jones. “But whether the purpose is to improve image, increase safety or reduce cleaning bills doesn’t matter - the end result is the same.”