Keven Moore: Truncated domes cause injuries and are unsafe, not at all what they were meant to be

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Many of us have cursed these teeth rattling mine-fields called truncated domes, detectable domes, or tactical pavers while pushing a grocery cart out to our cars, wondering what genius thought that placing them in front of a grocery store or pharmacy was a good idea.

We have our federal government to thank for these accident-prone obstacle courses that haunt the elderly many others dealing with balance issues due to dizziness, inner ear ailments, medication, arthritis, diabetes multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer disease.

In 2010 the Department of Justice issued a new American Disability Act standard that began requiring that truncated domes be installed throughout the country to help visually handicap pedestrians navigate across streets by helping them determine the boundary between a sidewalk and a street where there is no curb to warn them.

This new standard spawned a new multi-million dollar industry which created hundreds, if not thousands, of jobs nationwide and still thrives today.

Damaged dome

With my 25-plus years of experience as risk management and safety professional I initially found the ADA requirement to be a noble and just cause, but over the years I come to question them.

I have lost a couple of gallons of milk and pickle jars when these truncated domes first appeared outside my grocery store, but I have also witnessed my own kid catch a flip flop on one of the raised bumps, causing him to skin his knee.

What really caught my attention was when I first witnessed an elderly lady trip and fall on a clear dry summer day outside of a pharmacy (luckily escaping a severe injury). This sparked my concern. Since writing an article about this earlier this year, I have spent significant time researching their dangers.

These tactile warnings have served the visually impaired for nearly two decades; however they are a very real potential trip-and-fall hazard, an unfortunate unintended consequence of the ADA standard.

One thing hammered into my head while working on my Masters in Loss Prevention and Safety at Eastern Kentucky University several years ago was to revisit any recommendation I may make because of the potential of unintended consequences. I have since learned that you can cause bigger or inadvertent hazards while trying to address another.

So stop and think about this for just a minute — it has been estimated that there are only 1.3 million people in the U.S. or less than 1% (.004%) that are legally blind. It’s been estimated that there are 46.2 million people aged 65 and older accounting for 14.5 percent of the total population.

Do the elderly matter less than the visually impaired? Do disabled visually impaired Americans rights take precedence over elderly Americans navigating their way across these hazards?

Tough questions, indeed.

Elderly people tripping on truncated domes is only projected to get worse, because more truncated domes are being installed each year. According to the Census Bureau’s the elderly population will more than double between now and the year 2050, to 80 million. By that year, as many as 1 in 5 Americans could be elderly.

The one thing I have learned is that because of their limited immobility and being prone to losing their balance and falling, many elderly do not venture out in public like they once did. Nonetheless nearly all cherish their independence. So they still try to go to the grocery store or pharmacy on their own. These hazardous obstacles await them.

What makes the elderly more prone to a trip and fall on truncated domes is the fact that many elderly people shuffle their feet to avoid falls. Shuffling is a common cause of falls because sliding feet can more easily trip on rugs, door thresholds, and uneven surfaces.

This problem does not discriminate against the elderly either. Many able bodied women in high heels have tripped and been injured.

The fact is everyday pedestrians and visually impaired still find these truncated warning pavers to be controversial from a safety perspective, because the raised bumps make it very difficult for the mobility impaired.

Disabled wheelchair users complain because they need to use momentum to push themselves up and down the curb ramp but sometimes the dots are just too bumpy. The bumps often times will stop a wheelchair dead in its tracks and causing users to fall out. For those with spinal cord injuries, these domes have also been known to trigger muscle spasms as well.

The Americans with Disabilities Act Accessibility Guidelines (ADAAG) recognized that slip-and-falls could be an issue and added some formality to the use and design of these truncated warning pavers in by adding formality in the size, design, and distance between each dome and location for these truncated warnings pavers. They even began to require that they be slip-resistant. However they are still not trip-resistant and that is where the problem still exists and still being overlooked.

Property owners and business owners need to understand that once these truncated domes are installed, their responsibility does not end. Property owners and business owners still have a duty of care to protect those that come onto their property.

To avoid lawsuit from a potential fall they need to discover what the lifespan of those who are on their property. Normal wear and tear and even UV rays will slowly diminish their lifespan, so therefore it’s important to know when they may need to be replaced.

Property owners and business owners need to properly care for and periodically clean their truncated domes pavers, but they need to use the correct cleaning solution that does not deteriorate or diminish its coefficient of friction and useful lifespan.

In the wintertime many property owners and business owners will spread salt at their front entrances to prevent slip and falls, but salt is known to cause deterioration, especially to concrete. Consequently salt can cause damage truncated domes made of concrete and to the concrete surrounding the domes. This sometimes causes water to seep in underneath the paver, and with the freezing and thawing it will cause the paver to rise up and separated from the concrete, making it an even bigger trip hazard.

Many truncated domes have been known to sustain damage from snowplows, snow blowers and shoveling snow and will then need to be replaced.

Panels of detectible warning surfaces have been known to undergo cracking, weathering, peeling, loss of screws or screw heads (for those panels which are fastened into underlying concrete sidewalk), etc. Anything that generally removes the structural integrity of the panels or creates a tripping hazard takes away from the purpose of the panels.

Failure to replace a slightly damaged truncated dome pad can serve as enough credible evidence to a plaintiff attorney, where they can claim that it helped contribute to their client’s injury.

Luckily for property and business owners many of the newer truncated domes being offered today are now being made from polymer composites which are highly durable and not susceptible to the elements.

So where does this leave property owners and business owners as it relates to their liability, given mandates that they be installed?

Well if you are a large corporation such as a Walgreens, Walmart, Krogers, …etc. then I suspect that you are already aware of this exposure from several prior claims and you cannot plead ignorance. Such evidence can be used against you in court.

As a property owner or business owner until our ADA/Department of Justice revisits this mistake, you are basically on your own and better carry enough coverage on your liability policy. You still have an obligation to protect those who enter onto your property, so you should ensure that proper care and maintenance your truncated domes.

As a risk management and safety professional trying to offer up a solution, the first step would be to try to reengineer out the hazard. Short of removing the truncated domes, this leaves you with installing a center handrail down the middle of these pavers or creating a separate entrance for the elderly without pavers.

We make special accommodations for the disabled, so why not the elderly, right? As outrageous as that may sound, it does diminishes the exposure and proves to the jury that you did all that was reasonably possible.

The only other option that I see is a long term play to lobby the US Government to reverse this mistake.

Be Safe My Friends

Keven Moore works in risk management services. He has a bachelor’s degree from University of Kentucky, a master’s from Eastern Kentucky University and 25-plus years of experience in the safety and insurance profession. He lives in Lexington with his family and works out of both the Lexington and Northern Kentucky offices. Keven can be reached at kmoore@roeding.com.

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