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.

How good are we at judging risk around us?

“I’ve never had a problem before, and I’ve been doing this for years!

You hear it regularly, and perhaps even say it ourselves. We use our own incident-free experience as justification for the acceptability of an activity. Here’s the problem with that: We are notoriously bad at judging many categories of risk around us. The reason is simple. “Getting away” with a risky behavior does not really prove anything, because the relative probability of an incident or injury can vary widely and still have the same result in the very limited sample that is our own experience.

Here is an example: Terry grew up in a home where his mother would cook a meal and leave the remaining food to cool on the stove, and often not refrigerate it for hours afterwards. Terry continued the practice when he began to live and cook on his own. A woman he began dating noticed the tasty batch of stew that he’d made her for dinner was left on the stove (without the burner on) not only after dinner but all the way through the rather lengthy movie that they watched. She said “Are you not keeping the leftovers?” He said, “Why would you ask that? Wasn’t it good? There’s a lot left.” She replied, “It’s just that it’s been sitting out since 7, and it’s nearly midnight now.” Terry’s answer? “It’s fine.”

In his mind it was fine. But here are some facts to consider:
– The meaty stew he cooked was clearly and demonstrably likely to have far more growth of pathogens that could cause foodborne illness when cooled that slowly and held at room temperature
– Thorough reheating of the stew, as was his common practice, could kill many types of pathogens and result in no ill effects, on two conditions 1. That heating is truly thorough, sustained, and to a sufficient temperature and 2. That there are no toxins or toxic byproducts associated with the particular organisms that affected the stew
– Terry’s own childhood and youth contained relatively frequent episodes of what his family called “stomach flu” even though the actual nature of the illness and cause were never really understood.
– Terry didn’t think that the gastrointestinal issues that he’d experienced were out of the ordinary for a typical family, largely because none were particularly severe, and perhaps more importantly because he didn’t really have any sense of how often other families experienced these illnesses.

Do you see how “It’s fine” is really not true in this case?