U.S. firms planning to continue to manufacture on American soil need to look at every avenue possible to improve worker productivity. Acknowledging this fact, one unexpected place employers might start looking is down on the floor.

Researchers in one study selected a factory that was experiencing a significantly high accident rate along with high worker absenteeism. Anti-fatigue matting systems were installed in areas where workers had to stand for long periods of time, such as at assembly lines and workstations. They were asked to fill out a “Worker Perception” questionnaire three times per week for two weeks.

The survey indicated:
  • Participants reported “considerably less fatigue” before and after work following the installation of the anti-fatigue matting systems.
  • Pain in legs, feet, and lower back was also reported to be “much less” after the anti-fatigue mats were installed.
To determine if reduced pain and fatigue resulted in improved worker productivity, the researchers evaluated worker absenteeism and injuries during a 12-month period prior to installation of the mats. They found installation of anti-fatigue matting systems resulted in a 2.2 percent increase in worker productivity, partly from lower absenteeism, and partly due to decreased downtime from injuries.

Mats find new roles
Mats have traditionally been used to prevent injuries such as slips and falls and to keep facilities clean. But now high-performance matting systems — mats usually purchased directly from distributors, made of higher-quality materials than rented mats, and designed to last for several years — are playing many new roles.

“High-performance and appropriately sized entry matting systems [are] an integral part of every green building,” said Stephen Ashkin, a longtime advocate of green cleaning and president of the Ashkin Group, LLC, and executive director of the Green Cleaning Network, Bloomington, Ind. “They are one of the best pollution prevention strategies that can be employed to reduce soils before they enter a building.”

Understanding anti-fatigue and green mats
Anti-fatigue mats installed in industrial settings are engineered with increased elasticity, which helps them absorb vibrations that can become bothersome over long periods of time. Often they have thousands of air bubbles, which help prevent fatigue and create a soft, comfortable cushion to stand on, reducing discomfort and helping to protect worker health.

Green matting systems not only capture soils, moisture, and contaminants, but also store them. Whereas a conventional rental-type mat can quickly become saturated with soil and moisture and become ineffective, a high-performance green matting system contains the soil and moisture until they are removed safely and with minimal environmental impact with proper cleaning.

Traditional uses
One of the most important traditional roles of matting systems is their ability to prevent slips, trips and falls. High-traffic areas in an industrial setting are especially conducive to such accidents, and mat placement is crucial in preventing them. Managers should closely observe traffic patterns at critical times throughout the day.

In particular, identify common paths employees take when walking within their work areas and to other areas of the facility.

Mat selection and placement in an industrial setting is crucial. For instance:
  • At loading dock areas, heavy-duty, chemical-resistant mats with raised “diamond” patterns to help increase traction and durability are best. A minimum of 15 feet of matting is recommended.
  • For dry workstations, anti-fatigue matting systems would work best.
  • At building entries, install scraper mats to remove large debris; these should be followed by wiper/scrapers, which take advantage of the twisting motion that usually happens when workers pull open a door inside the breezeway area of an entry. Finally, wiper mats placed inside the facility perform the final dust and dry of shoe bottoms.