BY STEVE DI PILLA
HOLD TIGHT: A sure foot is needed when rounding corners.
KEEP 'EM CLEAN: Shoes should be inspected regularly to make sure they grip properly.
There is compelling evidence that using slip-resistant footwear reduces accidents.
For example: in 2001 researchers at St. Lawrence University completed a pilot study that provided slip-resistant footwear to employees. The reduction in injury rates and workers compensation claims at this school of about 2,000 students was reported to have resulted in savings of an estimated $100,000.
In another case, a foodservice operation employing 250 people at a major airport reported that such a program helped reduce slip and fall accidents to zero for over a year.
At the same time, experience shows that one make of footwear promoted as "slip-resistant" may be significantly more or less slip-resistant than another (see sidebar).
Further, effectiveness depends on more than just the efficacy of footwear design and is affected by its use, environmental conditions, the type of floor surface and finish and other factors. The maintenance, replacement, and administration of footwear programs are also essential to their success.
Plan a policy carefully. It is important to seek legal counsel before instituting a slip-resistant footwear program. While a mandatory policy is likely to maximize usage, it can also present potential legal exposure if improperly drafted or implemented. It may be helpful to ask footwear vendors to provide sample footwear policies for you and counsel to examine when designing your own.
Some companies have found that the cost benefits of slipresistant footwear favor purchasing it for employees. This approach can eliminate many excuses and is more likely to result in the footwear being perceived as required and part of the uniform.
Footwear Specifications. There are often requirements that "slip-resistant safety shoes" be worn, but rarely is this definition clear enough for employees and managers (see sidebar). To ensure that employees-wear suitable footwear, it is essential to clearly specify (or pre-approve) employee footwear, since much footwear claims to be slip resistant (and may be in some conditions but not others).
Enforcement. Having clearly outlined what is considered acceptable footwear, company policy should clearly state that an employee arriving at work in footwear other than that specified will be sent home. There should be a progressive disciplinary system to address repeated failure of employees to wear and maintain the specified footwear.
While it may be difficult to do this in some cases (such as when a unit is short-handed), compliance is unlikely to take hold unless it is uniformly enforced.
After an initial period of frequent discipline, noncompliance is likely to drop off as workers understand that management is committed to enforcing its footwear policy. Alternatives to sending an individual home include:
- Giving the individual a less desirable job for the day in an area/operation that does not require slip-resistant footwear; or,
- Having on hand a small supply of overshoes or shoes that employees must sign out, use and return at the end of the shift (optimally, the least attractive variety).
Inspection and maintenance is part of any effective program, and footwear is no different. Footwear should be checked for cleanliness and condition daily, prior to the start of work. The presence of liquid contaminants or solid matter wedged in tread patterns can reduce slip-resistant properties.
Failing to inspect footwear properly may result in accelerated wear due to the grinding and leaching of contaminants into the footwear bottom. This reduces the useful life of the footwear and also quickly degrades its slip-resistant qualities.
Wear and tear have an impact on the effectiveness of slip-resistant footwear, but several factors influence the degree to which they do so. In any event, it's just a matter of time before slip resistance begins to deteriorate and the footwear needs to be replaced. Upon inspection, signs of wear are usually clear. For example, the rear of the heel may be worn away and the sharp peaks of treads will appear shorter and flatter.
Some employee education (and a spot check process) should be implemented to inspect and clean footwear bottoms, much as floors are regularly cleaned. It can be helpful to develop and distribute a brief set of best practices/ guidelines for staff as a payroll stuffer to include items such as:
- Proper cleaning of footwear bottoms to extend their life and keep them effective
- A warning not to wear work footwear outside of work
- A recommendation that an employee have multiple pairs and rotate them
- A suggestion that employees use onsite lockers to store shoes
Replacement programs are key. Because wear and contamination reduce the slip-resistant qualities of footwear over time, a system to track shoe replacement is essential. Since the nature of the material used in safety footwear treads is softer and wears faster than that of conventional street footwear, and is subject to substantial contamination, the frequency of replacement should reflect the expected conditions. Replacement is often called for after 6 to 12 months.
Another factor that tends to accelerate the wear and degradation of safety footwear is that many employees wear work shoes elsewhere, such as traveling to and from work and walking on rough concrete sidewalks and parking lots. This subjects footwear to conditions that puncture, gouge, scrape, abrade and scuff it, reducing its effectiveness in the workplace.
Depending on the size of your operation, coordinating a tracking program may be a challenge, especially if turnover is high. Assigning responsibility for footwear replacement to the local manager helps to divide that labor and place responsibility at the most appropriate level of management—at the local level.
Footwear Design & Slip-Resistance
The material used in the heel and sole of footwear is a major factor in its ability to be slip-resistant. Softer compounds are generallymore slip-resistant than harder materials because they more effectively "grab" a surface.
Tread patterns can significantly affect slip-resistance performance. Tread patterns that run in the direction of travel are ill-advised, as they tend to accentuate rather than retard forward motion.
Also not recommended are patterns that produce enclosed areas. These can trap water or other liquid contaminants. Having no path to disperse, the liquid is squeezed and is unable to compress, which may result in hydroplaning. Random patterns and patterns perpendicular to the direction of travel are more effective.
Many varieties of footwear on the market are promoted as slip-resistant. Of note, most tests for slip-resistant footwear contemplate clean, dry floor conditions. Test method ASTM F489 is the most commonly performed and cited test for footwear slip resistance, but specifies dry testing only. Performance in wet conditions may be different.
In other instances, numbers can be distorted through improper averaging methods. In one example, a manufacturer advertised results of 0.44 (oily) and 0.45 (oily/wet) against a combined average for four different competitors of 0.34 (oil) and 0.34 (oily/wet). Since actual data was not released, two of those competitors could have had poor results (significantly lower than the vendor's), bringing two with superior results (significantly higher than the vendor's) down to the combined average.
Other advertising may use wording such as "restaurant-tested and approved," which is too vague to be considered an endorsement. Similarly, "patent pending design," indicates only that the design may be the subject of a patent application. In any case, patent protection alone is no guarantee of the effectiveness of any design.
Steve DiPilla, ARM, AIC, AMIM, WSO-CST, is director, product research and development for Risk Control Services, ESIS, Inc., the risk management services arm of ACE USA, a Philadelphia-based provider of insurance products and services. With more than 25 years of risk management experience, DiPilla is the author of numerous articles regarding slip and fall risk management issues, including Slip and Fall Prevention: A Practical Handbook, a comprehensive reference guide for safety engineers and claims professionals. Additional information can be found at www.esis.com