For a slip to occur, a heel needs to strike a floor. Now, we’re talking here about a heel because that’s a traditional slip. What people sometimes find is a kind of sliding action across the floor, where flat footed. The foot is flat on the floor, but you have insufficient static friction and a slide may occur. The way to deal with this may not necessarily be the same as a traditional slip where a heel strikes at an angle with your body weight hitting the surface and the friction or lack thereof dictates the extent to which a slip may happen.
Being able to control the heel elements of a slip can have a dramatic positive effect on outcomes. There are lots of different types of footwear available in the world. But also, there are environments where people will be barefooted instead of, or perhaps, in addition to having shod feet. So, when trying to manage our slip safety risk, we need to bear in mind what footwear is likely to be present and think about how we can manage risk in that context.
Furthermore, we must consider when we can truly control footwear and when we cannot. If you are operating a restaurant and have slips both front and back of house, footwear may be a fantastic control measure to help prevent your staff from slipping in the kitchen because you can provide them with PPE. But for members of the public coming through your front door, there is no way of controlling the footwear they choose.
Over my years in the industry I have seen a lot of cases of slipping accidents occurring, and the initial response by the on-site team is that the person’s footwear was inadequate. High heels are a great example of this. However, if you look at the law, as well as the practical realities of the situation, if you’re operating a restaurant, a shopping centre or a pub, then you should expect the women will be visiting that establishment and wearing high heels. You therefore should be taking steps to ensure that the environment is safe for people wearing high heels.
That’s not the same as someone who comes into a pub in bare feet. I’m sure you could make a very strong argument, if there were glass on the floor, and someone cuts their feet, that if they were wearing bare feet, then they’ve contributed to that accident happening. But I don’t think you can say that a lady wearing high heels has done something irresponsible regarding her own safety, if she suffers a slip in your building.
Saying that, of course, different types of footwear will provide different levels of friction, to the floor, and a high heel is likely to give friction on the lower end, if nothing else than because you only have a very small surface area touching the floor. Therefore, the amount of friction generated can only ever be of a certain level. If reading this with your own personal slip safety in mind, I would advise against wearing high heels on an icy day or perhaps even a wet day if you are concerned about going into environments where you believe floors may be slippery.
When it comes to staff footwear it’s critical to understand the differences between the types of footwear available and what this truly means from the perspective of slip resistance. If you search for safety shoes on the high street or online, you’ll find hundreds of options. There is an EN standard for safety footwear, which every pair of shoes pertaining to be safety footwear must pass (BS EN 13287). However, this does not have a particularly high standard when it comes specifically to slip resistance. You could liken it to passing a GCSE versus having a PhD.
Typically, safety footwear that’s available will have some a profiled sole, but also features such as ankle protection and steel toe caps. The slip resistance is almost an afterthought in many cases. So if you buy a pair of shoes which achieves this standard, it doesn’t necessarily follow that those shoes will give you sufficient slip resistance, particularly given the fact that different environments, will have different contaminants and so profiles will react in a different way to those. So, an appropriate slip resistant shoe for a kitchen is likely to be different, to an appropriate shoe for a lifeguard on a poolside for example.
In the UK, the HSE has developed a test method called GRIP. And this is a much more robust way of validating the slip resistance of the soles of the shoe. It works by replicating a shoe strike, similar to how the pendulum test works, and gives you a star rating of up to five. Depending on the environment and contamination that you are dealing with, you can choose something appropriate using this advice. But it’s not necessarily the case that a five star shoe would be better for you than a three star shoe using this particular system: it isn’t a linear method of testing.
Providing footwear for your staff can be a bit of a minefield. In the UK, if you institute a PPE policy, in other words certain safety footwear is obligatory, then you as the employer must both provide it and pay for it. In certain industries with high staff turnover such as hospitality, the cost of providing new footwear for every new team member can quickly become astronomical.
Where we’ve seen footwear fail in the past. It tends to be through an ill-judged selection process. To get staff to buy into any PPE and actually use it effectively you need to get their buy-in. One factor that’s critical is comfort. If you provide footwear to staff that is uncomfortable for them to wear and you expect them to stand on their feet for 10 to 12 hours a day wearing it, it’s unlikely that they are going to do that. They’re going to find reasons or excuses to justify not wearing the footwear. I would encourage you, if you are looking at footwear as a control measure, to undertake some trials to judge get and get stuff feedback on comfort levels, and how happy they are with the footwear. Most providers will support this in my experience.
Another aspect which is often overlooked is style, so perhaps it’s less important in a manufacturing facility but if you’re thinking about staff, serving as waiters and waitresses in a restaurant that likely to be younger people and average, and they’re likely therefore, to have certain stronger views around style and what they want to wear. So thinking about getting their buy-in to the aesthetics of the shoes, is just as important in many cases as the comfort.
Durability is another key criteria. Just as a floor surface could start as slip-resistant but deteriorate, so could a show. Given most souls are made of a soft, rubber-type material, they will change over time. So it’s important to understand and to the effectiveness over time due to wear rates on the soles. The last thing you want is to mistakenly rely on the fact that you’ve provided anti slip footwear because it was it slip-resistant out of the box, yet after 18 months of being used every day, it no longer is.
We won’t touch on the other aspects of safety shoes here (ankle protection, steel toe caps etc) because that’s not relevant to slip safety in any detail. But you should be able to achieve any other aspects of safety you need, as well as a sole that provides the right level of slip resistance.
As mentioned before, please do not assume that a safety shoe will provide the level of resistance that you necessarily would like.
When it comes to barefooted users, we can assess the friction provided by a floor with a bare foot by using a different slider on the pendulum test. Quite often the level of slip resistance achieved by the floor can vary significantly between the two types of user. This make sense if you think of the analogy of a Formula One car. In dry races, the teams will use a slick tyre which is made of a very soft rubber, which will mould itself to the floor surface. Whereas in the wet, they’ll use a ribbed tyre because of the different conditions. So if you are operating leisure facilities with changing areas or hotel bedrooms or shower rooms in your office or any other environment where people might have no footwear on foot, you really need to consider both users when it comes to the steps you take to manage that risk.
Another aspect of footwear that can sometimes be overlooked is over shoes. We’re seeing a move culturally against the use of single-use plastic and therefore over shoes in facilities such as leisure centres is falling, as people start to eradicate them. However, in certain types of manufacturing facility, the shoes will be here stay for some time yet. Your traditional blue plastic over shoe is effectively introducing a barrier between your foot and the floor. Therefore, in wet or contaminated conditions, given this barrier is a smooth plastic, it is likely to inhibit, not aid, slip resistance. It would certainly therefore be worth considering alternatives, if you are operating environments, which may become wet or contaminated, from the perspective of slip safety.