Researchers Test Shoe Tread To Prevent Workplace Falls

Dec 20, 2015

A research team is seeking to determine the limit where shoes go from being safe to unsafe.
Credit Erno Mijland / Flickr

Just like the tread on a tire, the tread on your shoes eventually wears down. And according to researchers, many U.S. workers end up falling because of slippery, worn shoes.

University of Pittsburgh researchers are using a $1.5 million grant from the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health to explore exactly how workers’ shoes contribute to those falls, as well as how to better gage when a shoe needs to be replaced.

Kurt Beschorner, research assistant professor and principle investigator of the research team, said previous studies found that wearing shoes that are not slip resistant can double a person’s risk of going down.

“While shoes have been around a long time, we have developed some new technology that can really look at the effectiveness of tread in order to provide measurements that weren’t possible before,” he said.

Beschorner compared footwear tread wear to the tread on a tire.

“People change their tires at regular intervals. When you get an inspection done, for example, they’ll tell you your tires need to be replaced or they’ll need to be replaced soon,” he said. “Those kinds of procedures are not done with footwear.”

The problem is that the information on shoe tread wear isn’t nearly as complete. Beschorner said we know when car tires need to be replaced but we “don’t have the same information when shoes become unsafe.”

The team plans to make custom shoes, which will allow them to look at different design features, he said.

“Things like tread patterns and material properties,” said Beschorner. “The goal is to have the knowledge that we developed to be generalize-able to a lot of different shoes.”

Robotic devices can simulate prolonged wear and both the movement and forces that occur during a slip.

Beschorner said the team hasn’t yet determined how a person will tell when a shoe should be replaced, but he speculated it could take the form of an indicator on the shoe, or even using a coin as measurement.

“The hope is that the knowledge that we develop through this research grant will then get implemented into the world where people can use it to replace their shoes appropriately,” he said.