Mechanisms of friction and assessment of slip resistance of new and used footwear soles on contaminated floors

Ergonomics. 1995 Feb;38(2):224-241. doi: 10.1080/00140139508925100.


The great number of slipping accidents indicates that footwear providing good slip resistance must be rare. Slip resistance seems to be a purely physical phenomenon, however, more knowledge of the mechanisms of friction is needed to develop slip-resistant footwear and to ensure safer walking in slippery conditions. In the present study the influence of the normal wear of shoe heels and soles on their frictional properties was clarified. The slip resistance of three types of new and used safety shoes on four relatively slippery floor-contaminant combinations, was assessed with a prototype apparatus, which simulates the movements of a human foot and the forces applied to the underfoot surface during an actual slip. The used shoes were collected from 27 workers in a shipbuilding company and classified by sight into four wear classes: Good, satisfactory, poor, and worn-out. The assessed shoe heels and soles were in general more slippery when new compared to used heels and soles. However, footwear must be discarded before the tread pattern is worn-out. Used microcellular polyurethane (PU) heels and soles gave a considerably higher coefficient of kinetic friction (μk) on contaminated floors than used heels and soles made of compact nitrile (NR) and compact styrene rubber (SR). The heel-slide coefficient of kinetic friction (μkl) for used versus new shoes was on average 66% higher for PU (0·216 versus 0·130), 27% higher for SR (0·143 versus 0·113), and 7% lower for NR (0·098 versus 0·105). The fundamental mechanisms of friction between shoe soles and contaminated floors were also discussed, and experiments with seven slabs of sole materials were carried out to assess contact pressure effects from the viewpoint of slipping. Slip resistance particularly seemed to depend on the squeeze film and the contact pressure effects between the soling materials and the floor. An increasing contact pressure dramatically reduced the μk, thus indicating that the slip resistance varies considerably during the normal gait cycle. Hence, average friction readings are probably not at all decisive from the slip resistance point of view. An instantaneous coefficient of friction may be more relevant, because in walking the time available to achieve a sufficient coefficient of friction to avoid a slip is only a few tenths of a second.

Keywords: Contact pressure; Simulation of foot motions; Slip resistance; Squeeze films; Wear of shoe soles.