Selecting Slip-Resistant Footwear for General Purpose Use

Slip and Fall Risks Get Personal

A former colleague of mine who is a commercial real estate appraiser related to me that he slipped and fell a couple of weeks ago as he was on a high-rise condominium tower walk-through. He related that the steel diamond plate decking on one of the exit stairways was damp, and his shoes were very worn. He went out the exit hallway door, took two steps onto the landing, and experienced a heel-slip leading to a fall.  He went down hard on his tailbone, and also hit his elbow on the ground as he fell. Thankfully, he was not seriously hurt. He called me today, recounting his incident and speculating that his poor footwear was the primary cause of his slip and fall. He asked me for advice on how to select shoes that would give him more confidence in the varied environments where he walked on the job.

Shoes that Help Keep You on Your Feet

I have done a lot of slip and fall prevention work with restaurant, hotel, manufacturing, and construction operations, all environments where there is generally  an understanding that footwear needs to perform for the job. My friend’s request, though opens up some broader considerations.  What about professionals who need to walk in varied environments and conditions, but need a business-casual look and a high degree of comfort as well. Here are some of the characteristics I told him to look for:

1. A good sole tread pattern. One of the most important things for good footwear traction on wet, contaminated, or loose surfaces is a good tread pattern. Look for mid-size tread blocks with many leading edges, with channels between the blocks wide enough to channel away liquids. Avoid smooth soles, lightly textured or patterned soles, or protruding ridges that run lengthwise along the sole.

2. A good sole compound. This is harder to discern when you are shopping, but an important factor that affects the ability of the shoe to provide good traction when wet or greasy. This is one area where some less reputable shoe brands have copied the tread pattern of industry-leading soles but have much harder sole material that exhibits poor slip resistance. A soft sole isn’t automatically going to have good slip resistance, but hard soles seldom do.

3. Good sole geometry. You want to make sure that there is a slight rise at the front of the shoe (known as “toe spring”) to prevent tripping over small changes in level, as well as good relationship between the angle of the sole and heel. Any shoe that angles the foot downward excessively may make it hard to maintain your balance in some situations.

Here are some examples from real-world shoe soles:

This sole has very good channels, both wide and narrow, that make for great performance on wet and greasy surfaces.

This sole has some large flat areas with a fairly shallow pattern, which are not great for slip resistance, but does have some good tread blocks on the perimeter of the sole. A good sole compound helps this shoe perform fairly well given its limitations.

This shoe has some good tread blocks and a good sole material, but lacks smaller channels for optimized performance on wet surfaces.  This particular shoe does have a very good sole material which makes for solid performance. 

This sole has a good lug design with good performance both on smooth surfaces and on loose dirt and gravel. It can be difficult to find a shoe sole well for both outdoor and indoor environments, but this one is very good in both environments.

This sole has very good cylindrical tread elements integral smaller channels, but has a relatively smooth surface on the critical heel-strike zone at the rear of the shoe. Balancing that out, though, is a good sole material compound, and the good grooves in the rear section. Also noteworthy is the consideration for wear patterns built into the sole, with extra material along the quick-wearing heel area, and a flexible section in the forefoot.

An example of a great all-around shoe for my colleague’s application. Good sole geometry, great tread pattern and material, and a stylistic fit for the application in question. If he was going to be walking on a lot of dirt and gravel, another choice would be better, but for his travels in and around various properties, these fit the bill nicely.

Every occupation and application has its own challenges and constraints, but hopefully these examples will provide some guidance about general factors.

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