First things first, have you heard the term "grippy" thrown around in the shoe industry? It sounds catchy, right? Well, here's the catch: just because a shoe has a rubber outsole and some traction doesn't automatically make it slip-resistant. There's more to it! We need to consider a few factors and standards when delving into the world of slip resistance.
Let's start with the material. Now, I won't bore you with an in-depth chemistry lesson, but did you know that rubber or gum rubber, in its natural form, comes from the rubber tree? Gum rubber has a unique property—it's viscous, meaning if you were to place a square piece of it on a shelf, it would slowly melt into a blob over time.
While gum rubber outsoles can still be found on bespoke footwear like leather chukka boots, they have their drawbacks. They tend to be heavy and brittle, resulting in quick wear and tear. On the flip side, their high viscosity gives them an advantage—they're super sticky and extremely slip-resistant. Plus, they offer an incredibly cushy and comfortable walking experience.
But how do we retain the comfort and stickiness of 100% gum rubber while making it more durable and lightweight? Well, that's where some fascinating chemistry experiments come into play. Mixing rubber with other materials and conducting various tests allows us to achieve the perfect balance. Raw rubber can be quite finicky to work with, but through science & trial and error, we can formulate remarkable slip-resistant outsoles.
I recently had the incredible opportunity to work with the Vibram® scientists in their Italian innovation lab. They're masters at creating outsoles for different applications. In fact, they developed an amazing rubber composition designed specifically for walking on ice. Vibram® excels in the hiking and outdoor performance world, crafting rubber compositions that conquer jagged rocks, mud, water—you name it!
Now, let's talk about the pattern of the outsole. Picture it as a tire tread. Different situations call for varying amounts of tread. Today, we'll focus specifically on slip-resistant tread.
Our goal is to achieve maximum slip resistance to prevent falls in any circumstance that comes your way. To do this, we need to create as much surface area in the tread as possible. The more contact points with the ground, the better. However, we can't simply make a solid piece of flat rubber and expect it to perform well in all scenarios. Things get tricky when you introduce water, fluids, oils, and such. We need a way for these substances to escape quickly so that your tread remains in contact with the ground. In other words, if you step on a liquid, you need channels for it to dissipate. Otherwise, you'll end up stepping directly on a slippery surface. That's why it's crucial to have as many small channels as possible throughout the entire pattern of the shoe. These channels allow fluids to dissipate rapidly, ensuring your safety and stability.
Now, let's touch upon ratings. This topic can be a bit controversial these days. In the past, companies used to publish slip-resistant ratings, as certain workplaces required a minimum standard of slip resistance for their employees. However, due to ongoing legislation concerning workplace safety requirements through OSHA, those standards seemed to vanish for a while. There were debates on whether safety shoes needed to be slip-resistant on dry, wet, or oily surfaces, as well as uncertainties regarding testing on tile or concrete floors. Fortunately, the confusion has been clarified, and the minimum requirement for a designated safety shoe is now the ASTM F3445-21 standard. This standard ensures OSHA-approved slip resistance on both dry and water-wet surfaces.
So there you have it! Slip-resistant footwear is more than just a buzzword. It's a crucial aspect to consider, especially when it comes to ensuring your safety in different environments. By understanding the materials, patterns, and industry standards, you can make informed choices and embrace the ASTM F3445-21 standard for slip-resistant shoes. Stay secure on your feet and step confidently into any hospital mess that comes at you!