Ramp Up Your Safety With a Slip Resistant Surface
By Don Epp, SARC Facility Planner
Wheelchair ramp safety is an important concern for many organizations. The risk of slipping while traveling on a wheelchair ramp can be high if you have not taken any precautions.
Rain in the summer and the buildup of snow and ice in the winter can make travelling on wheelchair ramps difficult and slippery. There are a lot of different ways that organizations can make their ramps slip-resistant; however, some options are better than others for preserving the quality of your ramp as well as providing a long-lasting and safe, slip-resistant surface. For example, salt and metal shovels are hard on-ramp surfaces and are not recommended for slip-resistant ramp surfaces. There are many additional options that will increase safety as well as provide longevity to your ramp. In this article, I will explore the various types of ramp surfaces, highlight some of the pros and cons of each surface type, and outline some of the maintenance aspects of each (All photos are from ramps at group homes in Saskatchewan).
Treated wood is the most common deck and ramp construction material. Here’s what to keep in mind:
- Easy to install
- Materials are readily available
- The most cost effective building material
- Moderately slip-resistant
- Lasts about 15-20 years
- Dried out wood (especially on handrails) is prone to slivers and splinters.
- Requires regular ongoing maintenance to prevent rot and splintering. Sanding, weatherproofing sealers and stains will help extend the longevity of the ramp.
- Slip-resistant surfaces are often recommended to be added to wooden ramps.
- There is a “cost of ownership” to account for the regular maintenance required.Slip-resistant textured paint on ramp
Slip-resistant tips and tricks for wood ramps:
- Wood can be painted with a textured slip-resistant covering and there are many on the market. These coverings offer added traction. Every 3-5 years these textured paints will need to be re-applied.
- Treated plywood is also used on ramp surfaces and is usually covered with another material.
- Rubber matting, rubber tiles, rubber sidewalk blocks or even rubber paving has been used on ramps. There are a number of options with rubber building materials worth investigating. These offer great traction and ease of installation. Rubber building materials are becoming more popular and can be seen at playgrounds and around outdoor pools. All are maintenance free, durable, UV resistant, able to withstand extreme temperatures and of course have high traction.
- FRP mini-mesh grating is a non-traditional building material used to increase traction in industrial applications and offers extreme traction and durability. FRP grating has been used on wheel chair ramps to offer superior traction and durability. It is sold in panels and can be attached to a wooden framed ramp.
- Vinyl sheet material (similar to indoor flooring) is durable and looks great but is very slippery. Water can collect in puddles in low spots on decks creating extremely slippery areas.
- Carpet has been used for traction on ramps and has worked well. It can withstand shoveling and ice melt materials and is easy to replace when it wears out. However, carpet also retains moisture and often takes a long time to dry after a rain; this keeps the wood wet, which increases the possibility of mold and early deterioration.
2. Composite Decking
Composite decking is a longer lasting alternative to wood; however, when it comes to safety there are some limitations:
- Easy to install and could be done as a DIY project by some
- Moderately cost effective considering it does not require sanding or staining
- Maintenance free
- Creates a modern appearance to the house
- Lasts twice as long as wood
- Environmentally friendly as it uses wood fibers and recycled plastics
- Often very slippery with small amounts of rain or snow – manufacturers are working at producing a better slip-resistant composite decking material.
- Tends to sag and bend more than wood.
Metal ramp surfaces offer a great maintenance free alternative for wheelchair ramps:
- Expanded metal sheets can be installed directly over a wood frame
- Easy to install with some attention to special metal working equipment
- Moderately cost effective and readily available
- Some metals are maintenance free, while others need some rust prevention treatment
- Offers strength, traction, and durability
- Will last a lifetime
- Modular aluminum ramps are another common type of metal ramp; their additional advantages include:
- They are sold in sections so they can be disassembled and moved to a new location
- Aluminum is strong and lightweight and requires no maintenance
- Ramps are designed to offer maximum traction and to meet all the required building codes
- Sagging of expanded metal sheets can be a concern. Thicker metal and additional bracing are needed to prevent sagging.
- Bare metal will require special paint to prevent rust. Salt and other chemicals can corrode untreated metal.
It is important that the gaps in the metal are not too wide as canes and crutches may become stuck in the openings.
Cement is another common ramp construction material; however, there are some important things to consider to properly maintaining these ramps:
- Maintenance free
- High durability
- Good traction
- High initial cost but low cost of ownership
- Lasts 40 years or more
- Works well when the ramp is not too high off the ground
- Difficult to install and usually installed when the building is being constructed
- Permanent, as it cannot be altered once it is installed
- It can only be used on short distance ramps
- Salt and freeze/thaw cycles can damage the surface of the cement
- Difficult to repair if there are cracks and chips
Slip-resistant tips and tricks for cement:
- Rubber paving works well on cement ramps. It can renew an older cement ramp that has chips and cracks.
Slip-resistant tips and tricks for all types of ramps:
- Heated outdoor mats, an idea borrowed from hot tub owners, offers another alternative to slippery ramps. An electric heated rubber mat is installed on the ramp and plugged in to the nearest outlet. It provides enough heat to melt snow and ice and keep the ramp clear. The rubber also offers traction. No need for shoveling or ice melt on these ramp surfaces. For more information check out this link.
- A ramp on the inside of a garage will offer a slip-resistant access to the house for the lifespan of the building
- Elevating lifts are also an alternative to a ramp and can operate outdoors or indoors
A slip-resistant wheel chair ramp is important to providing safe access to a building. There are many options available each with their own advantages and challenges. Choosing the ramp that is best for your organization depends on the home or property’s own unique circumstances, such as upgrading existing ramps, starting a new build, budget, accessibility requirements, etc. SARC Members can also contact Don Epp, SARC’s Facility Planner, for guidance on the most suitable options for the organization.