Wearing the right shoes makes a huge difference. Think of slip-resistant footwear as a tool – wear the appropriate kind and it can make your job a whole lot easier. But ill-fitting or ill-suited footwear can make your job a lot more difficult than it needs to be.
Footwear causes about 24 percent of industrial slip and fall injuries. Issues can range from office workers wearing smooth-soled dress shoes into production areas, to choosing the wrong style of safety shoe or wearing shoes so long that no tread is left. Consider these four things when choosing slip-resistant shoes:
1. Know the Environment
When selecting footwear, it’s important to know what is making the floor slippery. Shoes designed to be slip-resistant in wet, outdoor conditions may not be effective on a shop floor coated with oily overspray or chemicals. Likewise, shoes designed for hospital or restaurant workers dealing with water or food-based oils may quickly degrade in industrial cutting oils.
Fortunately, the slip-resistant footwear market has grown significantly over the past decade; footwear is now available for tons of different work environments. Ask safety footwear manufacturers and suppliers for recommendations that match your specific needs. They will likely offer to test the footwear to demonstrate how it will work in a given environment.
2. Look at the Sole
No single tread pattern is necessarily better than another – although shoe manufacturers have a lot of marketing out there to explain how features of their tread patterns help improve safety. That’s a good thing, but it’s still important to understand how those features actually help with slip resistance. Look for soles that:
- Grip the ground firmly. Super-deep treads or patterns with a lot of voids can feel unstable.
- Have tunnels to channel water or oil away from the shoe. When you step in a liquid, it will choose the path of least resistance. If the tread has lots of channels or pathways to facilitate this, it will provide a safer step.
- Have circular grips that help prevent hydroplaning better than square or triangular-shaped grips.
3. Know the Limitations
No shoe is slip-proof. Just like earplugs, safety glasses, gloves and other personal protective equipment (PPE), slip-resistant shoes help to reduce hazards and improve safety, but they don’t make anyone a superhero.
And like everything else, shoes don’t last forever – even the best footwear needs to be replaced from time to time. If the tread on a shoe’s sole is 50% worn the shoe is twice as likely to contribute to a slip and fall injury as a new shoe or one with less wear would be.
Establishing a regular change-out schedule helps ensure that shoes aren’t worn past their prime. David Natalizia, a member of the ASTM Committee on Pedestrian/Walkway Safety and Footwear, suggests replacing shoes when two pennies can be placed on an area of the sole that has been worn smooth.
4. Have a Plan for Everyone
Set clear guidelines about what types of footwear are acceptable for all employees, including office staff. Office workers who enter slippery production areas in dress shoes are more prone to injury than workers who are in the area daily, are used to the conditions and are wearing appropriate footwear.
For office workers, stocking slip-resistant shoe covers at the entrances to production areas may be a solution to help improve safety, and may be a more viable solution than requiring everyone to wear safety shoes at all times. Proper signage can help remind office employees of the need for safety shoes (or covers) when entering production or other slippery areas.
Introducing the right type of slip-resistant footwear as part of an overall floor safety program can help to decrease the likelihood of a slip and fall injury – especially in wet or oily areas. Next week, we’ll look at the role that friction plays in increasing floor safety.
You tell us: How do your facility’s footwear policies contribute to your employees’ safety? Let us know in the comments section below!