A Science for the Art of Slipping: Take Charge of Your Traction

Willard Webb Posted by Debra Willard Webb, MS, RN, COHN-S, WCP®

Consider this all-too-common situation… coffee in hand, Sam hustles across the snow-dusted parking lot in leather sole shoes.  His phone rings.  Before he can answer “What’s up?” he’s down!  His heel slipped on black ice sending him off balance where gravity took over. 

Why?  Shouldn’t he have been able to regain his balance?  Why does one person fall on ice or a grape that fell off a lunch tray, or water in the hallway, and another just keeps on walking?

The why of a fall is partly explained by TRIBOLOGY - the science of friction, lubrication, and wear.  Tribology provides numbers that help us understand the friction between surfaces. This number is a coefficient of friction (COF), and describes the surface friction from zero (no friction) to one (high friction).  Not surprisingly, black ice has a very low COF.

The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) set a minimum standard COF for walking surfaces at 0.42μ (ANSI A137.1 & 326.3).  Floors with a COF below that number contribute to fall risk. CNA Financial Corporation recently published a tribometry study of hard surface floors in commercial settings and surprisingly found that barely half of the floors met this safety standard.  Clearly, there is work to be done to reduce commercial flooring slip risk. According to the National Floor Safety Institute, over one million hospital emergency room visits result from slip and fall incidents each year.  It’s time we all work together to reduce this significant hazard and keep employees, friends, and families safer.

However, simply replacing flooring with high COF flooring would not solve all the commercial building slip risk.  It is an important step (pun intended), but COF is not the only factor in slip and fall risk.  Lots of variables can decrease the COF affecting a walker.  Oil, water, cleaners, or even dry materials like dust and gravel can increase slipperiness.  Dry snow became the lubricant in Sam’s story, reducing traction between his shoe and the ice.

Maintenance routines are a crucial factor in flooring risk management.  Cleaning products, tools, and methods can increase slip hazards.  The wrong products, too much product, soap residue, failing to strip previous product, and failing to buff according to flooring guidance are all factors that can change floor safety. CNA’s report tells us that businesses would be wise to review current floor maintenance practices and ensure that surfaces are maintained according to the flooring manufacturer’s guidance. Further, knowing how snow and ice will affect the slipperiness of floors and planning accordingly makes sense as well.  

Not in charge of flooring at your workplace?  Then manage what you DO have control of.  Reduce your personal risk for a slip and fall. When rain or winter weather are in the forecast adapt your footwear.

Choose slip-resistant footwear with these characteristics:

  • High friction material
  • Larger heel contact surface
  • Tread patterns across the width of the sole to channel water away from your step

Adjust your walking style:

  • Take shorter strides with slightly flexed knees, keeping your center of gravity more stable
  • Leave a few minutes early to allow for a slower pace
  • Be aware of the walking surface and conditions
  • Have your hands free for balance; carry items in a crossbody bag

Consider your usual footwear inside and out:

  • Does the sole have traction on the surfaces you travel?
  • Does it contribute to a stable center of gravity?
  • Is your foot properly secured with laces or straps?
  • Would traction enhancers be helpful outside?

Take action when you recognize a slip hazard:

  • Promptly clean up any spilled liquids or other contaminants
  • Use “Wet Floor” signs where applicable
  • Use plenty of salt and sand outdoors in freezing weather

For more information, check these resources from EHS Today, Occupational Health and Safety, and previous Safety Net posts from Peter Koch entitled, “Stay SAFE from the Winter Slip and Fall” and “What’s on Your Feet This Winter?” 

 


MEMIC's Safe Gift Guide

Nothing is better than having a loved one come home safe, that's why we asked some of our Safety Management Consultants to share their top gift choices for the holiday season.

"It's gotta be the shoes," says Peter Koch. Peter isn't talking Air Jordans, the premier holiday gift of 1988, he's discussing the timeless necessity of slip and fall prevention. Like car tires, your shoes keep you firmly attached to the surface and there are many different tread types designed for the specific environmental conditions you may encounter. The deeper and more widely spaced the tread pattern, the more loose material - like gravel or snow - it can accommodate and still contact the stable surface below.  Because there are fewer contact points with the surface, this tread pattern isn’t great for hard wet/oily surfaces like tile or concrete. A deeply scored, but closely spaced tread pattern can readily squeeze out liquids and provide more surface area for contact with the surface underneath. Conversely, there is little room for bulky materials in the tread, allowing clogging and limiting friction. For those of you who don't love this excuse to buy more than one pair of shoes for the different conditions you encounter, you can look into traction enhancers that can be put on and taken off.

Tony Jones agrees on the importance of footwear, "When your feet hurt, you hurt all over." Tony offers tips on how to find the right fit. Not many people know it's best to buy shoes late in the afternoon when your feet are more likely to be swollen and at their maximum size. Selecting shoes made of leather or canvas, rather than synthetic materials, can also help in avoiding athlete's foot.

Ladders are like shoes says Scott Valorose, one size does not fit all and choosing the right kind of ladder for each task is important. If you see someone using a stepladder the wrong way, like folded and leaned in place of a straight ladder or using an aluminum ladder around electricity, then a gift of the right kind of ladder could literally be a life saver. Remember to choose a ladder that is capable of supporting not just their weight but also the weight of any tools, materials, and equipment they will be using.

Scott and Peter both agree that cut resistant gloves are a must-have for anyone who spends time in the kitchen around knives. For better kitchen ergonomics, Peter also recommends adjustable or telescopic handled scrubbers, dusters and sweepers to avoid overextending your reach or needing a ladder. That way no one can make an excuse when it is time to clean up after the holiday party that they are too short, tall, big or small.

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow - if you have the right snow shovel says Allan Brown. Consider a shovel with a bent handle, this will reduce the amount of bending you’ll have to do when shoveling. Plastic is lighter than metal, so go light; the snow will provide plenty of weight and if the snow is so heavy you are worried it will bend or break the shovel then you are lifting too much weight. For that special someone who refuses to hire a professional for anything, get a roof rake for snow removal says Rod Stanley and declare the roof a no-go zone. For someone who uses a snow blower in the winter or a lawn mower in the summer, hearing protection is another must-have to prevent ear damage says John DeRoia (also useful for large, noisy family gatherings). For anyone hitting the slopes, the best accessory to match your skis or snowboard is a helmet says Peter.

At MEMIC, we believe safety truly is the gift that keeps on giving, so you can always find more safety tips right here on the Safety Net Blog all year round.

Santa safety net gift guide


HO! HO! HO! Gift Wrapping and Lifting Tips for the Busy Elf

 CampaneriaPosted by: Natalie Campaneria, PT, MPH, CSPHP with contributions from Allan Brown and Maureen Anderson

Choose the best place to wrap your gifts and away from prying eyes.

BEST: Standing using a work surface that is 36-42” high (kitchen bar/island, a folding table with risers or counter) provides a good height for working while standing.  Standing allows you to move freely and avoid strains that can occur when over reaching.

GOOD: Sitting on a chair at a table is ok, but try to avoid reaching too far away to get supplies, cut the full length of paper or wrap large items standing up if you have to reach.

AVOID: Wrapping gifts on the floor; this puts excessive strain on your back and causes awkward reaching and sitting postures.

Gather all your supplies and place conveniently nearby to reduce reaching...

Pic 1 - Wrapping

…such as presents, wrapping paper, ribbon, tape and scissors so you aren’t running around looking for materials.                

The need to repetitively reach across the table for these items can put stress on the low back.

Tight on Space? Consider pulling out a kitchen drawer and covering it with a cookie sheet or pan with sides, then place all of your supplies such as scissors, tape, ribbon, tags in the pan so you aren’t searching for them while wrapping.

Cutting and taping: Avoid Sawzall and Duct Tape.

Consider investing a few dollars and get the best tools for the job like this wrapping paper cutter, spring loaded scissors and weighted tape dispenser. The cutting tools reduce the stress on the hand and fingers.  The tape dispenser allows you to retrieve a piece of tape with one hand while the other hand is holding it all together.

Paper 3

Use gift bags and avoid a lot of the fancy folding and cutting.

Gift bags decrease the time you need to wrap gifts and eliminate the need to reach for paper, scissor, tape, etc.  Oversize bags are great for large or heavy items.

Take an eggnog break to change posture and stretch… grab a cookie too!!!

Take a stretch breaks every 20-30 minutes.  Open up your shoulders and take a few back bends.  Go for a little walk.

Don’t be a messy elf and clean up as you wrap. 

Scraps of paper and ribbon on the floor create a slip and fall hazard (as well as too much mulled wine).

Gift Lift Guidelines:

  • When bending and reaching, fire up your core muscles and bend your knees. Keep your head above your buttocks when bending.
  • Anything over 35 pounds is a two elf lift.
  • Over 50 pounds get the John Deere or just put a bow on it and leave it where it lies.
  • When putting packages under the tree avoid unsupported long reaches. Pad your knees when kneeling, place one hand on the ground and position lighter gifts with the free hand.
  • When you stand up, reset your body and take a few back bends.
  • Avoid over shoulder reaches when putting the star on top of the tree. Get a ladder or step stool to keep the job below shoulder level. When the ladder has printed on the top rung “this is not a step” it means, this is not a step. Falling into the tree will only “delight” the tree, if you know what I mean.

Have a very happy and safe holiday season!