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Safety and Health Practitioner (SHP) is first for independent health and safety news.
June 23, 2008

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Safety footwear advice

Thanks to the HSE’s Shattered Lives campaign, the financial, personal and business implications of slips, trips and falls are now firmly back in the spotlight. Stuart Thorne looks at the key issues that need to be addressed to prevent these major causes of workplace injuries, focusing particularly on the merits of safety footwear.

The HSE’s Shattered Lives campaign is a very timely reminder of the threat that slips, trips and falls pose to almost every workplace in the UK. Statistics show slipping and tripping to be the single most common cause of major injury in UK workplaces, being responsible for:

  • almost 11,000 major injuries a year;
  • 38 per cent of all major injuries;
  • 27,000 over-three-day injuries; and
  • 24 per cent of all over-three-day injuries.

According to the latest research from the HSE, every 25 minutes someone breaks or fractures a bone at work. Every week, one person dies from a slip, trip or fall at work. In all, slips, trips and falls cost the UK economy £811 million annually.

As well as being a cause of accidents in themselves slips and trips are often the initiators of accidents attributed to other things, such as machinery, hazardous substances, and falls from height. The Shattered Lives campaign highlights the multifariousness of slips and trips as a workplace hazard but also the acknowledged difficulty in addressing and managing them — particularly in sectors like construction, manufacturing, health care, retail, and food and drink. Indeed, in that last industry, workers are far more likely to suffer an injury as a result of slipping and tripping than from something dropping on to the foot, or from chemical exposure.

Keep your house in order

No matter what the industry sector, the main causes of slips and trips in the workplace remain consistent: wet and/or uneven surfaces, substances spilled on the floor, and poor housekeeping. To deal with these issues, as with everything, an investment has to be made but as is evident from the figures above, such investment can reap valuable dividends.

And it doesn’t have to be just in monetary form. According to the HSE, 50 per cent of all trip accidents are caused by bad housekeeping, so a programme to review and remove slip and trip hazards in addition to a commitment to maintain tidiness can significantly reduce slip and trip incidents. Housekeeping can be easily improved by, for example:

  • ensuring there are suitable and clear walkways through the workplace;
  • keeping walkways clutter-free and ensuring there are no trailing wires or obstructions;
  • reviewing the way that staff work and the areas in which they operate — are the floors tidy, is there enough storage space, etc? and
  • educating employees about the need to reduce tripping hazards by maintaining good housekeeping levels in their own area.

Such relatively simple measures should drastically reduce tripping hazards, but when it comes to slipping hazards, the issues are wider than just good housekeeping. The reality is that no matter how effective housekeeping is, spillages, for example, will always occur. While safety footwear, like any form of PPE, should be the last line of defence, if it is chosen correctly it is one of the best solutions to this problem.

Spoilt for choice

Safety footwear technology has developed significantly over the past 20 years, so there are now myriad solutions to choose from. Nothing wrong with having a choice, but the increased technicality of the products available, and the range of protection and comfort levels on offer, has made the selection process a much more complex and time-consuming task for employers and safety and health practitioners.

The end result of this technological advancement — increased protection and comfort — is undoubtedly positive, but if we are going to reduce slip, trip and general foot-related accidents in the workplace there needs to be a commitment to investing more time in the selection process. In other words, the challenge in making an impact on slips and trips lies not just in highlighting and understanding the risks and hazards but in finding the right footwear solution to counter those risks and hazards.

Where safety footwear performance is concerned, too many people still think about physical performance and not enough about wider considerations — such as the workplace environment, the substances with which the feet will come into contact, and the way in which people work. Effective safety footwear selection is therefore about matching performance needs to the workplace hazards by looking at key issues, including:

  • Hazard type — physical (crush, puncture, impact), chemical (spilled hazardous substances), thermal (extreme heat/cold);
  • Environment — are people working indoors or outdoors, in a wet or dry environment, or a combination of both?
  • Ergonomics — are people on their feet all day? Does their job involve high flexing, constant movement, or standing still for long periods?

While many industries will have the same physical hazards — things can fall on, or stick into the feet in any workplace — the environment in which the people work, and the way in which they will work, will vary considerably. Wearers’ needs must therefore be looked at holistically. It is not good enough simply to undertake a risk assessment and tick the protection box, hoping that the ergonomic and environmental issues will take care of themselves.

This approach applies to every element of the selection criteria. If there is a slip issue, for example, the sole unit of the shoe or boot has to be relevant to the environment in which it will operate. Failure to ensure this could actually increase the risk of a slip or trip occurring. A sole unit that provides excellent slip resistance for the food sector will not be fit for purpose within the construction sector, despite the fact that the hazard is the same. It will be the environmental and ergonomic factors that will ultimately drive the selection process.

Grip tips

While providing physical protection is clearly an essential consideration in the safety footwear selection process, it is not the only one. A grip that, when it comes out of the box, looks chunky may, in reality, be wholly inappropriate for the wearer and the job they do. Leading manufacturers realise just how important grip is and spend a great deal of time and money coming up with a range of solutions to suit different requirements.

For the employer/safety and health practitioner trying to select the right sole unit for their workplace, the typical questions to ask are as follows:

  • Does the footwear have the right grip for the environment? This is a critical step if you are to supply the right solution for the wearer. What type of grip requirements does the wearer have? Are they working outdoors or in a factory, in a wet or dry environment, on uneven or flat surfaces? Does the job require them to lift and carry, twist and turn, or climb up or down?
  • Does the footwear have shock-absorbing capability? As a result of the combination of the constant pounding that the feet are exposed to in the workplace, and the provision, over the years, of protective footwear that has not provided adequate shock absorption, employees are suffering micro traumatic shock injuries, which, although in isolation are not enough to cause harm, accumulate over time to the point where the employee suffers a musculoskeletal injury. Such injuries, which include back, muscle, nerve and joint disorders, leave the sufferer in considerable pain and often require them to have a lengthy period off work to recover.
  • Is the sole unit up to the job? This is particularly important for people working in, for example, muddy conditions, where a sole unit that is clogged up and unable to perform can become extremely hazardous for the wearer, offering virtually no grip whatsoever.
  • Is the wearer going to be constantly on their feet? If so, then the grip should follow the pressure zones of the feet, there should be an anti-torsion system under the arch, and a shock-absorber in the heel.

While safety is the highest priority in footwear selection, comfort and styling must not be neglected, either. If a shoe or boot is not comfortable, it will not be worn, or worn correctly, and all the safety features in the world won’t prevent an injury. Heels that are too high, a lack of arch support, and footwear that is too heavy or too narrow can all mean discomfort for the wearer, and thus increase the chance of a slip or trip occurring.

Thanks to the HSE’s Shattered Lives campaign, the financial, personal and business implications of slips, trips and falls are now firmly back in the spotlight. Stuart Thorne looks at the key issues that need to be addressed to prevent these major causes of workplace injuries, focusing particularly on the merits of safety footwear.

Summary

Slips, trips and falls are a major issue and need to be taken extremely seriously. A quick look through the In Court sections of the last few issues of SHP will reveal a plethora of incidents attributed to falls from height, scalding, etc. but look closer and a slip or a trip is often cited as the initial cause of the incident. While in most instances good housekeeping procedures will ensure that the hazards and risks are kept to a minimum, sometimes the additional measure of safety footwear is necessary to address particular issues relating to working environment, conditions and methods. In this case, grip is king in reducing slips in the workplace.

Get this step right and the chances of losing employees to needless injury will be significantly reduced.

What the HSE has to say

Footwear can play an important part in preventing slips and trips. For work situations where you have some control over footwear, but where floors are mainly clean and dry, a sensible footwear policy can help reduce risks. For slips and trips, sensible means flat, with a sensible heel, with the sole and heel made in a softer material that provides some grip. In work situations where floors can’t be kept dry or clean, e.g. food preparation, the right footwear will be especially important, so a slip-resistant shoe may be required.

Slip-resistant industrial footwear will normally have been tested for slip-resistance according to BS EN 13287:2004 — Personal protective equipment — Footwear — Test method for slip resistance, often using SATRA test method TM 144. Do not select footwear on the basis of brochure descriptions or laboratory test results alone. Footwear that claims €リslip-resistance’ may not perform well in your work environment. So how can you make the best choice?

€ᄁ Undertake a footwear trial before buying sufficient stock for your entire workforce.

€ᄁ Footwear can perform differently in different situations. For example, footwear that performs well in wet conditions might not be suitable where there are food spillages.

€ᄁ A good tread pattern is essential on fluid-contaminated surfaces. The pattern is characterised by, among other things, leading edges in all directions to sweep away lubricant, leaving dry contact under cleats.

€ᄁ Sole tread patterns should not become clogged with any waste or debris on the floor. If they do, then that design of sole is unsuitable for the situation.

€ᄁ Sole material type and hardness are key factors; caution is needed in making generalisations, and testing is always recommended.

€ᄁ When choosing footwear take into account factors such as comfort, durability, and any additional safety features required, such as steel mid-sole. The final choice may have to be a compromise.

For further information and case studies, follow the link below.

http://www.hse.gov.uk/slips/causes.htm#footwear

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Jstbook
Jstbook
14 years ago

If the accident isn’t 100% your fault, you are entitled to make a slips and trips on street injury claim, however, you need to ensure you receive the best advice about how to make your claim, otherwise you may not receive what you are entitled to.

Mani_141
Mani_141
14 years ago

Thanks for information. According to law How much time period we have to given to file compensation claim after accident.[]slips and trips on street[]

MKB Law
MKB Law
7 years ago

You should report slips and trips as soon as possible as there is a cut off point.