Get a grip with new safety footwear rating system

The Health and Safety Laboratory has stepped up the safety campaign by developing a slip resistance ratings system for safety shoes and boots.

GRIP, a one to five stars rating system, helps employers select the most appropriate footwear for their particular work environment.

Footwear manufacturers who sign up to the scheme can display the assigned rating on their product packaging.

Kevin Hallas, falls prevention technical lead at the Health and Safety Laboratory, said that ratings were given along with a “rating year”.

“So footwear tested in the 12 months to 31 March 2015 will be assigned a rating year of 2015,” he explained, writing in an article for Health and Safety at Work.

“Manufacturers will be able to use the rating until the end of the rating year and products will have to be re-rated every year to retain their status.

“For low hazard environments,” he continued, “one star footwear should be adequate to protect staff from slips. Where slips are known to occur, two or three star footwear will reduce these incidents. In more challenging workplaces, such as manufacturing areas with contamination on the floor, four or five star footwear will be more appropriate.

“Risk assessment reviews will help to determine whether the right footwear is being used — so if slips are still occurring in lower rated footwear an upgrade might be necessary, whereas if high levels of wear and no slips are noted with four star a reduction to three star might be adequate.”

In order to “get a full understanding” of the most effective footwear to use, other safety requirements such as toe protection or cleating pattern of the sole should be considered in conjunction with the GRIP ratings, he advised.

If enough manufacturers sign up to the new scheme, Mr Hallas said “it should help employers see easily whether footwear meets the standard they need”.

A footprint in the safety landscape

The new rating system came in response to “some concerns” about the accuracy of existing measuring systems.

“HSL uses instead a system of ramp testing,” Mr Hallas explained. “The ramp consists of an adjustable platform, fitted with ceramic tile flooring with a friction coefficient (CoF) typical of the average workplace floor. A fall arrest harness is attached to an overhead frame to prevent injury to the operator, who dons the footwear after the sole is rubbed with abrasive paper to simulate light use.”

“The operator carries out a series of controlled walks over the floor surface, which has a contaminant applied — either running water or a viscous glycerol solution. The operator takes a series of half steps forward then back at a defined speed, before returning to their start position. If they do not slip, the platform’s angle of inclination is increased by one degree and the procedure is repeated until a slip occurs. This is recorded as the slip angle.

“The test is repeated eight times for each of two operators. The process is then repeated with two more pairs of the same model shoe or boot to account for production variability. The average of the results is used to generate the GRIP rating.”

A GRIP rating is generated from the average of the results.

Slips, trips and falls remain one of the most common causes of major injury to employees at work and Mr Hallas said wet surfaces, coupled with the wrong footwear, were often to blame.

He stated: “The HSL’s one star to three star ratings reflect footwear slip resistance where water is present. To simulate environments with more viscous contaminants such as oils, the four and five star ratings also require a minimum CoF with glycerol contamination.”

The new scheme was launched on 17th June 2014 at the Safety and Health Expo in London.

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