16:07 PM

Taking Charge: How to Use a Battery to Prevent Workplace Injury

Pitt’s Kurt Beschorner develops a test that uses a AA battery to measure shoe tread wear that can lead to slips and falls


Workplace injuries and deaths have an enormous economic impact in the United States, costing society billions of dollars annually. According to the National Safety Council, work injury costs totaled $170.8 billion in 2018. One of the top causes is slip-and-fall injuries – an accident that can be mitigated in a variety of ways, such as proper footwear.

The University of Pittsburgh’s Kurt Beschorner leads research to predict the risk of a slip-and-fall injury based on shoe tread. They have examined the impact of worn shoes on slipping and are now working with the National Occupational Research Agenda (NORA) Traumatic Injury Prevention Council to develop safety signage for hospitals and the restaurant industry.

“Our research focuses on understanding the underlying causes of slippery shoes, and we have been working to identify the tread thresholds where shoes become unsafe,” said Beschorner, associate professor of bioengineering at Pitt and a member of the Human Movement & Balance Laboratory. “Slip-resistant shoes are designed with train channels that help drain fluid, but as shoes wear down, the channels disappear and become ineffective. This can create a slipping effect similar to tires hydroplaning on a wet road.”

Unlike tire tread, which focuses on depth, Beschorner and his team found that the risk of slipping depends on the size of the worn patch of shoe. They developed a test that uses a universal device, a battery, to determine when it might be time to replace your footwear.

“The strength of our test is in its simplicity,” Beschorner said. “Use the base of a AA battery to measure the worn region of your slip-resistant shoe. When the worn region becomes larger than the base of a battery, the shoe should be replaced. As the worn patch grows larger, there is a steady decline in function, and the base of the battery is the size where it becomes meaningful.”

The team considered several common items – such as pens or coins – for the test, but most objects varied in size from brand to brand and country to country. Batteries, however, are globally universal in size.

Beschorner suggests monitoring your shoes and replacing them before the worn patch becomes too large. His research also suggests that individuals will wear through their shoes at different rates.

“The rate of wear was predicted by the walking style of the individual. Particularly, participants who utilized more friction during dry walking wore through shoes at a faster rate,” he said. “Thus, individuals may require different replacement schedules based on their unique walking style.”

In addition to monitoring shoe wear, Beschorner also advises workers to examine the tread before buying a new pair.

“Certain footwear comes with large tread features, which should be avoided since these treads mimic the worn patch that can lead to slips,” he explained.

Check out the NORA Traumatic Injury Prevention Council’s posters for the food service and health care industries. 

“Common sense research meets the real world,” said Patrick Kubis, president of SR Max Slip Resistant Shoes. “We are already sharing this research with customers through educational posters and shoe box inserts. With one simple picture, our customers visualize the solution and the importance of replacing worn out shoes.”

You can find more information on the HMBL website.