Get a Grip: Preventing Slips and Falls with the Right Foot Protection

Oct. 10, 2011
How slip-resistant outsoles can help prevent slip and fall injuries.

Slips, trips and falls are the third-largest cause of workplace injuries and the single most common reason for visits to the emergency room. According to the Centers for Disease Control, they make up 15 percent of all job-related injuries, which account for between 12 and 15 percent of all workers’ compensation expenses.

As a manager or an employee working in an environment with potentially slippery or contaminated surfaces, having the right slip-resistant outsoles is a key factor in helping prevent dangerous and costly slip and falls.

The Slip-Resistant Testing Process

Slip-resistant outsoles are tested at accredited, third-party laboratories. During these tests, the outsole “heel” and “flat” contact modes are tested on:

➤ Dry tile

➤ Wet tile (water)

➤ Wet tile (oil)

➤ Wet stainless steel (water)

The outsole is given a rating in each of these environments as well as an overall rating. Outsoles must meet the standards for what is an acceptable test result in order to be labeled as slip-resistant.

What to Look for In Slip-Resistant Outsoles

The following outsole design characteristics can maximize slip resistance:

➤ Compound: Rubber is traditionally the most slip-resistant compound, although polyurethane (PU) also can be highly slip-resistant

➤ Lug design: Outsole edges help grip the ground and cut through contaminates. The more leading edges (which run parallel with the width of the outsole), the more likely the outsole will test well for slip resistance. Outsoles with many leading edges often are laid out in geometric patterns, which help channel water away.

➤ Open channels: Although surface contact is important, a completely flat sole is not good for slip resistance. For maximum slip resistance, an outsole needs to have channels where water or other liquids can escape out from under the outsole in order to maintain traction.

➤ Surface contact: Outsoles with low lugs or minimal lug height generally perform better because more of the outsole is in contact with the ground.

Outsoles with these characteristics tend to perform better in slip-resistant testing. When considering a slip-resistant outsole, it’s important to consider the type of work, flooring materials and contaminates the outsole will be exposed to. For example, the most slip-resistant outsoles often are wedge outsoles, where the entire bottom of the shoe comes in contact with the floor, therefore maximizing surface area. However, if a person often is on a ladder, an outsole with a defined, 90-degree heel is a much safer choice.

Many companies are willing to provide a list of their most slip-resistant outsoles, or recommend specific outsoles appropriate for different work environments. No shoe is 100-percent slip-proof, but having the right outsole for a particular work environment is the first line of defense against slips and falls and greatly can reduce the chances of injury.

Eric Fracassi is a product designer and developer for Wolverine, a company dedicated to the design of innovative work footwear for more than a century. For more information, visit

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