Choosing the Best Slip-Resistant Shoe

These guidelines can help managers determine which types of slip-resistant outsole are best.

SLIPS and falls are one of the leading causes of workplace injuries in the country. In fact, the National Safety Council reports more than 300,000 injuries occur each year as a result of slips, trips, and falls in the workplace, averaging almost $7,000 per accident in lost compensation and medical costs. The first step in helping prevent slips and falls in the workplace is selecting a shoe that is specifically designed for the work being done.

When choosing a proper pair of shoes to help prevent slips and falls, it's important to select a shoe that is both slip- and oil-resistant. These shoes are specifically engineered for people who work in locations where they commonly come into contact with liquid or oil on floor surfaces.

A shoe's outsole is responsible for its slip-resistant quality, so it is important to carefully examine the sole of a shoe to determine its slip-resistant ability. The following guidelines can help determine which types of slip-resistant outsole are best:

Examine the Outsole Pattern
The first thing to notice when examining slip and oil-resistant footwear is the shape of the tread design in the outsole's pattern. From triangles to squares to hexagons and circles, outsole treads are designed in many different patterns.

The shape itself is very important. These shapes are responsible for gripping the floor when the shoe comes in contact with a wet or oily surface. The shape creates a tunnel through which liquid is dispersed, creating the slip-resistant effect. Each shape offers some amount of slip resistance, however, the flat edge of outsoles with hexagons, triangles, or square shapes can sometimes create a wall that prevents liquid from moving away from the shoe sole. This can potentially cause the wearer to hydroplane.

For this reason, it is best to select a shoe with a circle-grip outsole. Given that there is no flat edge, the circular shape acts like a moving pad, with more rubber hitting the floor and water dispersing rapidly every time a step is taken on a wet or oily surface. To create even better traction, choose an outsole designed with snipes or small incisions that divide the tread shape into three or four movable parts. These snipes channel more liquid to the outer portion of the outsole, increasing the slip-resistant effect.

Note the Space and Depth of the Tread
The shapes described form the sole's pattern, which helps determine the slip-resistance of the shoe. If each individual shape of the outsole's pattern is too close together, the space may not be wide enough to channel liquid to the outer edges of the outsole. Liquid trapped beneath the sole could cause a hydroplaning effect. Look for the shoes with at least two millimeters of space between the tread pattern shapes for maximum safety.

The same concept applies to tread depth. If there is not enough space between the bottom of the tread and the bottom of the shoe, liquid will not be able to disperse quickly, potentially increasing the chance of a slip or fall. There should be about three millimeters between the sole of the shoe and the bottom of the tread.

Monitor the Tread Depth of your Shoes with Wear
Shoe tread is similar to the tread on your automobile's tires. Just as a tire's tread thins over time, an outsole's tread depth is reduced by wear. For this reason, monitoring the tread depth of your slip-resistant footwear is crucial.

Replace shoes when you begin to notice the tread depth wearing down. There are no specific guidelines concerning how long a shoe will retain its slip-resistant quality because the amount of time it takes a tread to wear will depend largely on the surface upon which the shoe is used. For example, if the flooring is more abrasive, such as concrete, the shoe will need to be replaced more often.

The best advice is to watch for the snipe grooves to wear away. When this happens, it's time to get new shoes.

Choose the Right Shoe for the Right Environment
Lastly, remember that many slip or oil-resistant shoes are tested on different types of tiles and flooring samples. Lab testing helps researchers identify which soles are best for specific environments.

Environmental factors can affect the performance of a shoe, so it's important to make sure the type of shoe you choose is best suited for the environment where it will be worn. If you will be going up and down stairs frequently, choose a shoe with a tread pattern that covers the entire outsole and heel for maximum slip resistance.

Beyond Slip Resistance
Shoe manufacturers know they can make the safest shoes possible, but these shoes won't do anyone any good if they are not used. After you have satisfied your need for slip resistance based on the criteria described, you can then move to the next most important attributes: comfort and style.

The most important feature to look for when searching for a comfortable shoe is an insole with extra support for the heel. It's important that your heel have maximum support when you're on your feet all day, so make sure your shoes have adequate cushioning in this area.

As for style, you know what looks good, so search for a shoe that fits your personal style. Rest assured, you can find shoes for the hospitality industry that are slip resistant, comfortable for those long days on your feet, and stylish enough to be worn away from the workplace.

Foot Protection Checklist

  • Does your written foot protection program include footwear and working surfaces?
  • Are program elements enforced and reviewed on a regular basis?
  • Is your foot protection selection based upon a documented hazard assessment?
  • Is there a documented review of employee-owned or provided footwear?
  • Is there a policy stating defective or damaged foot protection must not be used and must be removed from service?
  • Is disciplinary action used when employees do not adhere to the policy?
  • Is training complete and documented for all employees?
  • Are all exposed employees wearing protective footwear when necessary?
  • Are all foot protection items maintained according to the manufacturer?s recommendations?
  • Do employees know how to report damaged footwear when it is provided by the company?
  • Are employees instructed on the types of hazards that may cause foot injuries and on preventive measures?
  • Are aisles and passageways kept clear from tripping hazards?
  • Are wet surfaces covered with non-slip materials?
  • Are changes of direction or elevation readily identifiable?
  • Are aisles or walkways near moving or operating machinery, welding operations, or similar operations arranged so employees will not be subjected to potential hazards?
  • Are step risers on stairs uniform from top to bottom?
  • Are steps on stairs and stairways designed or provided with a surface that renders them slip resistant?
  • Where the ground or surface is wet underfoot, do employees wear impervious boots, shoes, rubbers, or other appropriate shoes?
  • Is waterproof footgear provided, or are dry places provided, for standing during wet processes?
  • This checklist was compiled by Linda F. Johnson, a former technical editor of Occupational Health & Safety. It is not intended to substitute for a comprehensive safety program.

    This article originally appeared in the April 2004 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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