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One of the most common causes of trip and fall incidents occurs when someone falls due to a difference in elevation in a community association, common area, concrete sidewalk. Since most sidewalks are constructed as slab on grade, it is very easy for a sidewalk to fall or rise due to erosion, root growth, or other cause.

When a section of condominium or HOA common area sidewalk falls due to erosion, this is caused by water runoff that erodes the soil beneath the concrete, causing the concrete to settle. Sidewalks are constructed with joints that are scribed into the concrete every 10 feet or so, to a depth of ½ inch. These joints are installed so that if the concrete does crack for some reason, it will crack along the joint line, as opposed to random locations. When a sidewalk does settle or rise, it is most often at the joint lines.  This difference in elevation between concrete sections is where a trip hazard is created.

Other causes for elevation differences and sidewalks include root growth, storm drain collapse, sewer collapse, and underground irrigation pipe failure. Water erosion causes dirt to be removed and a collapse of the sidewalk section. Root growth however, will cause a rise of a section.

grinding community sidewalks
Locate your difference in elevations, identify them with paint, and grind them so they are safe. This picture shows how not to grind. Just grinding the edge so it isn’t sharp, is not enough. The elevation change must be extended to the white paint line, so the change in elevation is gradual, not sharp.

The first curse of action is to eliminate the cause of the erosion.  If the cause is root growth, in most cases cutting a large root can damage a tree, so, it is best to leave the root in place, repair the concrete, and monitor for future movement. The most common way to repair a difference in elevation is for a community association employee, maintenance person, to install mortar or concrete patch material to the lower side of the elevation difference. This creates a ramp effect to the elevated section. This repair is often completed by a maintenance man using products purchased at a local hardware store. The problem with this method of repair is that within a short period of time the concrete patch cracks, chips, or separates from the concrete beneath it. This method of repair offers a quick fix, but creates an even worse trip and fall hazard. Not only does the difference in elevation become an issue again, now the concrete patch failure has created an additional place for a heal or toe to trip on.

If you insist on using the fill method, make sure you use the better products, which will probably not be found at a neighborhood hardware store or a retail construction product outlet. The patch material needed should be designed for thin patches. It should have a PSI of 5000 or higher. It should have no aggregate (stones). It is important to clean the surface and apply bonding liquid, so that the patch will bond as securely as possible.

Now we will discuss the grind method.  Construction equipment rental outlets stock concrete, hand held, grinders. They also stock diamond blades, which are used with the grinder to grind down a concrete surface. There are grinders on wheels that you walk behind, called scarifiers used for larger areas. With some practice, and following the instructions, a handyman can perform this task, with proper protective gear.

Note that dust vacuums are also available to keep the concrete dust from creating a very large mass. These vacuums are highly recommended and can reduce the amount of cleanup significantly, especially for indoor projects. It is recommended that all safety equipment should be used, including but not limited to goggles, hat, the proper breathing filter (mask), and gloves. Concrete dust is an irritant, and many people are allergic to it. It can cause harm and damage to your lungs and your skin. You can also permanently damage finishes on cars, windows and doors, and painted surfaces.

Masonry and concrete contractors commonly offer concrete grinding services, as well as sidewalk replacement, and sidewalk repair. If you don’t have someone capable to do this repair, call at lease three contractors and obtain at least two bids for this work. There can be a great difference in bids for small projects. Make sure that you have the contractor you select provide a certificate of insurance that should become a part of your association’s records, along with the contract in any record of payments

Your common area sidewalks should be inspected every three months for these types of problems. Weather plays a big part, and we all know how intense some Florida storms can be. Any time a trip and fall hazard is noticed, it should be addressed immediately to ensure the safety of residents and guests, and the general public.

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