Boat shoes have it, so why don’t work shoes? What do they have? Great traction. Traction that is enhanced through siping. If you read our previous article on tire siping, then you already know that siping produces micro grooves or slits in the tread to increase traction and extend the life of the tread by cooling it faster. So why haven’t safety professionals put siping to use in all of their industrial work boots and shoes? I am not sure, but I am on a mission to make it happen.
If you really want to reduce your slip and fall injuries, then you need to get a grip on your footwear and that means focusing in on three key areas – tread, traction and temperature. Let’s take a look:
Let’s start with temperature since this is the hardest to control and will most likely be the last on your list of things to deal with. Temperature has a significant impact on footwear traction. As rubber’s temperature rises, so does their propensity to expand and be pliable. And the reverse is true, as the temperature drops, the rubber’s ability to expand subsides. Colder rubber actually becomes harder, slicker and less able to grip surfaces. Just Google the effects of temperature on rubber bands or stick a rubber band in your freezer to see the effects first hand.
The rubber in footwear soles allows for more tolerance in temperature variation, but the premise is the same, warmer footwear equals better expansion and pliability which leads to better traction. And better traction means better grip and less slip and falls.
What’s this mean for risk managers? First cold floors will work against footwear soles and depending on the level of activity from the wearer could result in reducing the slip coefficient of footwear on flooring. Second, areas of transition, such as in food service areas, where employees work in freezers and/or refrigeration units should be outfitted with sanded surfacing, floor mats or other products which increase the slip coefficient.
Tread is extremely important to grip. Tread patterns have been researched to death, just ask Vitale Bramani (Vibram soles) the inventor of the world famous Vibram sole. The pattern can whisk away water, create suction, create grip which all contribute to traction.
And just as with any rubber or any other thing on planet Earth for that matter, it breaks down over time. Tread wears out. It wears off, grows smaller and ultimately loses it’s gripping power. The breakdown of shoe tread allows for uneven surface contact ultimately resulting in a great probability that a person will slip and fall.
Organizations with shoe programs should be mindful of the wear and tear on shoe soles and replace employees shoes on a more frequent basis to ensure that maximum slip resistance is maintained.
Traction is a function of temperature, tread, surfacing and many other factors. Traction is what we need to prevent slip and falls in our workplaces. We can have optimal temperature, but without the proper sole we have no traction. We can have the best footwear sole designs, but with cold rubber we have no traction. We can also have great temperatures, great soles and tread designs, but have water, oil, grease and other impurities floating on our floors and walkways.
Traction provides us with the ability to stop quickly, start quickly or change directions quickly when we are walking, climbing or otherwise moving about. Without traction, we all face the threat of a life-ending slip and fall.