Footwear Safety

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image via fashionlady

No one will make the argument that stilettos are safer than flats. And no one will tell you they’re more comfortable. Yet high heels are chosen over flats every day because fashion requires it.  According to a survey of three thousand women cited in Glamour magazine, “The average woman will buy 469 pairs of shoes in her lifetime with an overall price tag of about $25,000.” Each of these women has about nineteen pairs of shoes, including three pairs of heels; six pairs of flip-flops, sandals, ballet flats, and wedges; three pairs of boots; and four pairs of “foxy” shoes for nights out. This is an entertaining side note, but what does it have to do with slips, trips, and falls?

In American society, shoes are a fashion statement. And while some women elevate this to an art form, many men do the same thing. The problem is the conflict of safety versus style and fashion. Unfortunately, safety rarely wins that battle. A typical slip has three components: the walking surface, your footwear, and the material you slipped on. Footwear is the component that you have the most control over.

The National Floor Safety Institute published statistics on the causes of STF injuries in the food service industry. This included injuries among both employees and customers. Their analysis showed that footwear caused 24 percent of STF injuries. And floor surface and footwear together caused almost three-quarters of all the STF injuries. The causes may be different outside of the food service industry, but I’m pretty sure that these two causes represent the majority of STF injuries in all aspects of our lives. Let’s look at how footwear selection may increase the risk of an STF accident.

Flip-flops and sandals

image via First Impressions in Flip-Flops

Flip-flops are considered the most dangerous shoes on the market. In addition to the exposure to bacteria and the lack of support, they pose an STF hazard because they change the way you walk and they rarely have a secure gripping surface. The design of flip-flops and some sandals requires you to curl your toes to keep them on your feet. This curling action changes your gait and that, in turn, increases the risk for an STF injury. Even with this curling action, many people trip and fall when the flip-flop or sandal slides off their foot. Joel Greenberg, an expert on personal injury issues, says that most attorneys feel it’s almost impossible to win a slip, trip, and fall lawsuit if the injured person was wearing flip-flops. One of the notable issues with flip-flops is that, unlike regular shoes with laces, flip flops aren’t “locked” to the wearer’s feet. As a result, when wearers turn or shift their weight, they often slip out of the shoes. The American Medical News recognized this phenomenon as a disturbingly common cause of metatarsal fractures. The US Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) is well aware of the hazard created by flip-flops and sandals, especially when they’re made a certain way. It’s not uncommon to see a particular style of flip-flops or sandals recalled by the agency due to increased fall risk.

image via Bar Refaeli

Actor Brad Pitt learned the hard way that flip-flops pose a serious STF hazard. In April 2015, he showed up at the third annual Light Up the Blues Concert in Hollywood with bruises all over his face. As he told People magazine, “This is what happens when you try to run up steps in the dark, with your hands full, wearing flip-flops. Turns out, if you then try to stop your forward momentum with your face, the result is road rash.” Of course, running up the stairs in the dark poses its own set of problems, even for those wearing better shoes.

Barefoot and stocking feet

Many of us walk around our homes either barefoot or wearing only socks. Truth be told, I’m writing this in my bare feet. This, it turns out, can also increase the risk of a fall or STF injury. One study looked at the footwear of people over 65 and how this contributed to falls. This study compared three categories: wearing athletic/canvas shoes, all other shoes, and barefoot or stocking feet. After adjusting for other factors, the conclusion was that athletic/canvas shoes were the safest. Wearing other types of shoes increased your fall risk by 30 percent. Wearing no shoes at all increased your risk of a fall 11.2 times or 1,120 percent. I think I’m going to put on a pair of shoes.

In all seriousness, you’re eight to eleven times more likely to fall when you’re not wearing shoes than when you are wearing shoes.

image via Robins Key

There are three contributing factors to this conclusion: First, we do some of our riskier behavior without shoes, like showering. Second, without shoes, the feet are more vulnerable to painful trauma if an unexpected obstacle is encountered and this can result in a fall. And third, stocking feet may provide a poor coefficient of friction and thus be more prone to slipping. Just think about the last time you went down hardwood stairs in only your stocking feet.

Leather soles

image via Mala flats

If you’ve ever shopped for high-quality leather shoes, you’ve probably noticed that most high-end shoes have leather soles. If you’ve ever owned leather-soled shoes you know that they’re an STF hazard. Leather soles are very slippery—on both hard surfaces and on carpet—because they’re polished and have no tread pattern to minimize STF risks. Furthermore, they’re noisier to walk in and they wear out more quickly. So why are leather soles so popular? I went on a quest to find out the benefits of leather soles.

High heels

Anyone who has worn high heels knows the risk of tripping and falling. It’s not uncommon for the heels to break off, causing the wearer to stumble. Heels can get caught on something, like a bump in the sidewalk. They can get stuck in a soft surface like wet grass, which can pull the shoe off, causing a tumble. In 2012, Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard told the media that she fell after her heel got stuck in wet grass, pulling her shoe off. When she took her next step without her shoe, she ended up falling.

Heels put much more pressure on the ankles, which is why people trying to walk in high heels for the first time are so unsteady.

High heels naturally throw the wearer off balance, as evidenced by the wobbly gait of first-time wearers. Heels put much more pressure on the ankles than most wearers are used to dealing with, which is why people trying to walk in high heels for the first time are so unsteady. Their ankles are unable to meet the demand the shoes place on their joints. But even women who wear high heels daily are at risk of stumbling and falling, as demonstrated by the many videos, photos, and articles reporting on models or celebrities falling while wearing high heels. It’s possible to fracture your foot due to a fall while wearing high heels, according to Dr. Neal M. Blitz. In a Huffington Post article, he explained, “The higher the heel and skinnier the stiletto, the more likely one is for a fall—especially on uneven terrain.”

Tips for choosing safe shoes

We’ve now looked at several versions of what not to wear, but what should you wear to prevent slips, trips, and falls? You’ll need to select the best shoe for the situation. Remember that most falls connected to footwear are caused by slips, and that slips occur when there’s not enough friction between your foot or footwear and the walking surface. If you’re choosing shoes for work, you’ll want to add other safety features that are specific to your job, such as steel toes, but that isn’t tied to STF injuries.

The three characteristics of a safe shoe are:

1. A slip-resistant sole includes some form of rubberized material and a non-slip pattern. There are many different types of non-slip patterns. The key to a good non-slip pattern is adequate channeling that lets liquid flow out from the sole, allowing the sole to make solid contact with the walking surface and preventing hydroplaning.

2. A safe shoe has a strong heel pocket and lace up securely, keeping the foot securely in the shoe and protecting it from rolling over in uneven terrain.

3. The safest shoe has a low heel and a solid, wide base for stability.

image via Stop the Slip

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Stop the Slip's mission is to help prevent slip and fall accidents before they happen. Featuring our popular aluminum Handi Treads and the new Puppy/People Treads.

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