Did you know that just 90 minutes of standing on a flat, hard surface was found to cause serious discomfort to the feet, legs, and back as well as stiffness in the neck and shoulders? That’s right! When standing for long periods of time, blood flow to the lower extremities is restricted causing soreness and fatigue. Anti-fatigue mats combat these issues by providing support to the lower legs and back while promoting subtle movements in the leg and calf muscles which result in increased blood and oxygen flow. When you stand on a softer surface, the surface gives way as you apply pressure, relieving your body of that pressure while also increasing muscle movements that stimulate the flow of blood and oxygen.
Implementing ergonomic solutions, like industrial-grade anti-fatigue matting, can make employees more comfortable, and therefore more productive.
Compression Deflection: How Comfort is Measured
What is Compression Deflection? Compression deflection is the measurement used to gauge the displacement of an anti-fatigue mat under pressure. Basically, it measures how soft and squishy the mat is going to feel under your feet. So how do they do this? Typically, one load is applied at 20 psi (pounds per square inch) which equates to a 150-pound person. Another load is applied at 40 psi which equates to a 600-pound person. Research suggests that the optimum deflection for both loads should fall between 20% and 60%. Anything less than 20% feels too hard, while anything over 60% can be perceived as too soft. Like Goldilocks, you need something in the middle that feels just right!
Understanding Material & Performance
The material that an anti-fatigue mat is made with is very important because it directly impacts the mat’s performance and durability. Most anti-fatigue mats are made of one of three materials: PVC (vinyl), rubber, polyurethane, or a blend of the first two.
PVC (vinyl) is typically the most widely used as it is a low-cost material. However, it is far less durable than rubber or polyurethane. PVC mats are notorious for ripping, cracking, and curling at the edges which can create an unsafe situation. And PVC is not nearly as slip resistant as rubber. In fact, when wet, many PVC mats do not meet the minimum requirements for slip resistance. If you select a PVC anti-fatigue mat, we recommend choosing one that is either a solid material or one whose surface is molded, not glued, to the foam base. This will help reduce the likelihood of cracking, curling, and delamination to help prolong the life of the mat.
Rubber is an excellent material choice for an anti-fatigue mat. While it is not as expensive as polyurethane, it seems to offer more benefits especially in industrial environments. It comes in two primary types: styrene-butadiene (SBR) and nitrile. Nitrile rubber is probably the best option for anti-fatigue matting, especially in an industrial environment. It is incredibly slip resistant and is not subject to degradation from grease or oil. It is resistant to slag which makes it safe for use around welding and grinding. Nitrile rubber is naturally resistant to microbes like bacteria, but if you are in an environment sensitive to bacteria, we highly recommend using a nitrile product that has been anti-microbially treated to provide additional protection from bacteria and degradation.
As you can imagine, mats that blend PVC and nitrile rubber offer a blend of benefits between the two materials. PVC/nitrile-blended mats won’t be impervious to grease and oil like pure nitrile, but they will be resistant to it. Over time, grease and oil will degrade blended products so they are not recommended for environments with grease, oil, or certain chemicals. Nor are the suitable for environments with slag.
Polyurethane is typically the more expensive of the three materials, and while it offers excellent comfort and durability in commercial environments, it generally lacks the qualities necessary for success in tough industrial environments. In general, polyurethane mats provide appropriate solutions for dry to slightly damp or oily environments. Polyurethane is heat safe, but only up to about 400 degrees, so slag will cause significant damage.
Please note: We've made several generalizations about materials in order to provide you with a high-level understanding of the general pros and cons of each material. However, when you compare mats and materials, we highly recommend researching the specifications of the particular mats you are considering so you can make a direct comparison.
Environment & Usage Considerations
To select the best mat for your particular needs, you must consider the quality and performance ability of the mat and your environment. Anti-fatigue mats are available in virtually every price range, but as you might expect, price is often linked to performance and durability. It’s imperative that you consider your specific needs and environment, and that you understand how a mat will perform under those conditions. Make sure you select a mat that can withstand the rigors of your environment and safely meet the requirements of your workspace.
- Would you characterize your environment as dry, damp, or wet?
- Are you working in a setting that’s sensitive to bacteria?
- Will your matting be exposed to grease and/or oil, or chemicals?
- Will workers be using plasma cutters, grinders, or welders that generate slag?
- Are you working with equipment or components that are sensitive to static electricity?
- Will you sweep/wipe down or hose off your mat to clean it, or do you want/need to sterilize it in an autoclave or have it commercially laundered?
The filters in the anti-fatigue section of our website are designed to help you narrow your mat selection based on your needs and environment.
It's important to make sure you understand the expected service life of the mat in your environment. Service life is affected by usage to a large degree. For instance, let’s assume two identical manufacturing facilities purchase the same anti-fatigue mats. These facilities are identical in every way, except Plant A runs three shifts seven days a week, while Plant B runs two shifts five days a week. The mats in Plant B will be used roughly half as much as the mats in Plant A, and will subsequently have a much longer service life, pending no unexpected damage occurs to them.
Worn and damaged mats should be removed from service and replaced immediately. When mats are kept in service beyond their useful service life, they no longer deliver the anti-fatigue benefits they were designed to provide.