Coming to Grips with Slips

Any environment with a hard walking surface and that is subject to various contaminants is in need of some form of slip resistance.

When you stop to think about it -- as Randy Lubart, executive vice president and director of research and development for Shoes for Crews in West Palm Beach, Fla., certainly has -- a vast number and variety of work settings need slip resistance. Hospitality and food service establishments do, but those just scratch the surface.

"Spanish quarry tile, terrazzo tile, various other types of terrazzo, sealed cement, and asphalt surfaces, anything that one would find within what is defined as a controlled environment -- outside of the forestry industry, or railroad yards, things of that nature. In other words, 90 to 92 percent of all hospitality and quick-serve environments, they use Spanish quarry tile. You've seen it everywhere," Lubart said during a July 18 interview. "It has three very distinct characteristics: It's very inexpensive, it wears like iron, and it's remarkably hazardous once contaminated."

He defines a contaminant as "anything that hits the ground that doesn't belong there." This does not necessarily occur because of poor housekeeping; customers may routinely cause spills inside many restaurants, for example.

"You know as well as I, general liability is a serious issue for the employer or the proprietor of the business, every bit as much as the safety of their own employees," Lubart explained. "For example, a lot of quick-serve restaurants have gone to these self-serve stations where the customer will pour their own soft drink. They'll apply the necessary cautions, either they'll put one of our mats down or something else. But the reality is, that customer is sloshing around ice and perhaps six or seven different categories of soft drink that splashes everywhere. And other customers, obviously, are subject to that, as well. The restaurateur, their remedy is to clean the floor as often as possible, provided it does not disrupt their flow of business."

Slip-resistant footwear is Shoes for Crews' specialty. It offers 115 styles and has a leading share of the hospitality market. Still, it's clear that most work settings where slip-resistant footwear is called for don't require that workers wear it, he said.

"There are a tremendous amount of folks out there that have little understanding of what slip resistance means or its importance to them," said Lubart. "Any environment that has a hard walking surface and is subject to various contaminants is in need of some form of slip resistance, either through footwear, through the conditioning of the tile, or mats."

Combining Slip Resistance with Crush Protection
Thirteen of the company's styles also feature a steel toe or composite toe. These styles are appropriate for food manufacturing environments, where there are abundant contaminants and individuals are carrying heavy pots and pans or heavy items from assembly lines, with the attendant risk of heavy items being dropped onto their toes. These styles also are suitable for light industrial manufacturing, tire stores, and grocery stores.

"There's a reason why they don't let you come into the changing bays when you're having your tires fixed," he said. "You've got tire irons, you've got heavy tires, you've got oils, you've got drills, you've got all kinds of apparatus, none of which you want to come in contact with your feet, either the top or the bottom, right? There's a lot of regulation in this country, and there's a lot of stipulation as to what one should wear, given the environment in which they work. There are ways to protect oneself in a reasonable fashion, but unfortunately, a lot of folks don't take that step. That's why there are over 9 million injuries from slips and falls that end up in the emergency room every year."

When buying footwear that offers slip resistance plus steel or composite toe, he recommends ensuring that the footwear is specifically advertised and proven to be slip-resistant via independent lab testing, touts the highest Coefficient of Friction (COF) scores, and has an official certification from ASTM 2413-05 or higher. Steel-toed footwear conducts energy, heat, and cold, while composite safety toes do not. Both weigh approximately the same and offer identical protection, provided the safety toe is void of defects and is properly certified by the ASTM.

He said most customers really aren't familiar with COF, which is a ratio measuring the friction between the walking surface and the person's footwear. Many don't realize there is no official U.S. slip resistance standard, Lubart said.

The ASTM Technical Committee F13 on Pedestrian/Walkway Safety and Footwear considers 0.25 as the minimum number, based on the ASTM 1677-5 protocol, which tests on a brand-new piece of quarry tile. Even though the ASTM no longer engages the COF testing on the Mark II, most of his company's customers still prefer the results derived from the device, Lubart said. Because customers indicate few of their work environments, only about 6 percent, are brand new, Shoes for Crews conducts its tests on a piece of quarry tile that was in a McDonald's restaurant for eight years and is worn smooth.

"I must tell you, in our testing protocol, that [0.25] is a remarkably low score," he said.

Checking Slip-Resistant Footwear for Excessive Wear
There's a simple rule of thumb for determining when slip-resistant footwear is too worn to provide the protection it should. Lubart said internal testing and customer feedback indicate when 50 to 65 percent of the original grid is gone, it’s time to replace those shoes. When they're new, the grid on the sole is 3.5 millimeters deep.

He said workers typically wear them too long. "Whatever you paid for your shoes, you want to get maximum wear out of them. And the definition of maximum is within your own criteria."

To assist, Shoes for Crews recently began providing a small gauge along with its footwear so end users can check the amount of wear periodically. Anyone who has used a penny to check tire wear on the family car will recognize it. "If you can see the word 'worn,' it's time for a new pair of shoes. It goes down somewhere between 50 and 65 percent of the original, 3.5-millimeter outsole," he explained.

This article originally appeared in the September 2013 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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