Question: At my company, most of our products are made up mainly of flour, sugar, powder dyes and a few other fine powder-like substances. These substances end up in a thin layer on our manufacturing and warehouse floors, which are concrete with an epoxy coating, making our floors extremely slippery.
Eventually we want to either somehow remove the epoxy coating, or apply some type of coating on top of the smooth epoxy, but we are not at that point yet, and we need to do something to prevent dangerous slips and falls. In the interim I have been looking into slip-resistant shoes, but I have found that even safety shoes rated SR are not all created equal and that some sole compositions and tread patterns are better suited better for some environments than others.
Are there safety shoes out there with sole compositions and tread patterns best suited for powders and dusts? Most information on the internet about slip-resistance seems to deal with liquids such as water, oils and grease.
Answer: My grandfather owned a bakery, so I’m familiar with how slippery fine dusts can be. Unfortunately, even though dusty floors are just as slippery as liquids spilled on a floor, there hasn’t been a lot written about the best types of industrial footwear or other solutions to solve this problem.
Some people do have moderate success when wearing shoes with rubber crepe soles. They aren’t easy to source, however. A rubber crepe sole looks like someone has taken a sole-shaped mold and filled it with small balls or wads of excess rubber cement that has been rubbed off of the edges of a surface. I haven’t seen this type of sole with steel toes, shanks or other safety features. It also tends to wear out rather quickly, so it may not be a practical solution in a manufacturing setting.
When considering the tread patterns, look for a sole that does not have deep cleats. For example, if it looks like a boot that would be good for hiking or rough trails, it will most likely not be a good choice. These types of soles tend to be very rigid and hard. This prevents them from “hugging” the floor and providing grip on smooth surfaces. Instead, look for a soft polymer sole with a pattern that is more solid, like a herringbone or other similar pattern. Consider a pattern that will be easy to keep clean and that will help prevent the dust from caking in the crevices. Daily cleaning and ensuring that any dust accumulated in crevices is removed will also help.
Turning away from shoes and looking at other solutions, some of the best information that I have found on remedies to help keep people from slipping on dusty floors actually doesn’t come from industry or manufacturing; it comes from basketball players and dancers.
For years, basketball players relied on spitting or even licking their shoes to increase traction on dusty, hardwood floors. Not only is this unsanitary, but it also exasperates the problem because the dust will cake to the wet sole of the shoe, making the shoe twice as slippery. Plus, in your situation, it simply isn’t an option.
Now, basketball players are turning to sticky mats that collect the dust from their shoes. These mats come in various sizes and when you step on them, it’s like stepping on the sticky side of heavy-duty packing tape.
The players simply step on the sticky mats between plays and whenever they go from the sidelines onto the court, and the mat removes the dust on the bottom of their shoes. As the mats get covered with dust, you tear off the top sheet (like a lint roller) to get a fresh one.
These mats are also commonly used in industrial settings at entrances and in transition areas to keep dirt from being tracked from one area into another. Although they would probably not be practical as runners in long aisleways or directly in production areas, you may be able to minimize the problem by placing them adjacent to production areas to avoid tracking the powders to other areas.
In the dance world, performers sprinkle rosin on their dance surfaces to help prevent slipping. Rosin or sweeping compound may help keep the dust down and provide additional traction until the area can be swept or vacuumed.
As a side note, from what I’ve read and seen the following methods are not effective for keeping people from slipping on dusty floors: hairspray, soda and acetone roll-ons or sprays. Hairspray only lasts until it dries. Soda just makes the floors sticky and attracts pests. Roll-on or spray acetone degrades many of the common polymers used to make shoe soles.
There are, of course, various forms of surface coatings that can be applied to the floor, but until that opportunity comes, I hope that some of these solutions will help to minimize the hazard.