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More than 90 percent of winter boots fail slip-resistance test, Canadian researchers report

Here in Minnesota, falls are the leading cause of injury for children and for adults aged 35 and older.

Falls, particularly in winter, are all too common, and many people are unaware that their boots may not be protective on icy surfaces.
REUTERS/Eric Miller

A group of Canadian researchers have developed a test that, for the first time, uses real people to determine the slip resistance of various winter boots on icy surfaces.

The initial results were not good. Of the first 98 brands of boots tested, only nine pairs (8 percent) met the test’s minimum slip resistance standards.

This finding is particularly troubling given that all of the footwear tested were either safety work boots often used by industrial workers or casual boots people purchase specifically to wear on the streets in winter. (No dress boots, which are notoriously slippery, were tested.)

The researchers, who are from the Toronto Rehabilitation Institute, have set up a free-access website where consumers can go to see how various boot brands fared in the test. They plan to continue to add more boots to the list.

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“For the first time, consumers will have winter slip resistance ratings available when they purchase winter footwear — similar to the ratings available for winter tires,” the institute said in a released announcement.

A slippery slope

At the website, you can also watch a video of how the tests are conducted. While strapped in a fall-preventing harness, volunteers walk back and forth in boots across a specially built ice-covered surface in the institute’s laboratory. 

The surface starts level, but then gradually tilts at steeper and steeper angles until the volunteers slip. The angle before they slip is called the “maximum achievable angle,” or MAA (which is also the name the researchers have given to the test).

If the boots can grip an incline of at least seven degrees — the slope of a wheelchair ramp at a sidewalk curb in Toronto — they are given a rating of one snowflake. Boots get two snowflakes if they can achieve 11 degrees, and three snowflakes for 15 degrees.

So far, none of the footwear tested has received more than one snowflake.

Researchers discover most winter boots are too slippery to walk safely on icy surfaces

Of the boots tested that did receive a snowflake, two types of technologies stood out, according to the researchers.

“Shoes outfitted with Green Diamond or Arctic Grip soles have special outsole materials designed to provide better traction on wet ice, which may reduce the risk of slips and falls on slippery icy surfaces,” they say in their announcement. 

Dangerous for all ages

Why is this testing important? Because falls, particularly in winter, are all too common, and many people are unaware that their boots may not be protective on icy surfaces.

“It’s nasty if you break your hip. You may never be mobile again if you’re older,” the institute’s research director, Geoff Fernie, told the Montreal Gazette. “With head injuries, some people die of it.”

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“A lot of elderly people choose not to go out,” for fear of falling, he added. “So they get no exercise and they get depressed and isolated.”

Indeed, falls are particularly problematic for people aged 65 and older. One in four Americans in this age group fall each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Twenty percent of falls experienced by older people cause serious injury, such as a broken bone or a head injury. More than 2.8 million older people are treated in U.S. hospital emergency departments each year for fall-related injuries, and 800,000 are hospitalized, the CDC also reports.

But older people are not the only ones at risk. A 2005 study involving almost 1,500 American adults found that up to 18 percent of young adults (aged 20 to 45) and 21 percent of middle-aged adults (aged 46 to 65) reported having injured themselves in a fall within the previous two years. That compared with 35 percent of the older adults (aged 66-plus).

“The young group reported injuries most frequently to wrist/hand, knees and ankles; the middle-aged to their knees and the older group to their head and knees,” the authors of that study concluded. “Women reported a higher percentage of injuries in all age groups.”

Minnesotans at increased risk

Here in Minnesota, falls are the leading cause of injury for children and for adults aged 35 and older, and almost 40 percent of all brain injuries in the state are the result of falls, according to the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH).

Minnesotans of all ages have fall-related death rates that are 1½ times higher than the U.S. rates. Among the elderly, the state’s fall-related death rates are more than three times the national rate.

Those high rates are undoubtedly due at least in part to our cold, icy winters. The months with the highest fall rates in Minnesota are December through March, and during those months, the rates are double what they are at other times of the year, reports the Minnesota Brain Injury Alliance

But it’s not only the elderly who are slipping and falling during Minnesota’s winters. As the alliance also points out, Minnesotans between the ages of 25 and 59 are the most likely to get injured from a fall between December and March.

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So, no matter what your age, pick your boots carefully.

FMI:  For help in making safer winter footwear choices, check out the results of the Toronto Rehabilitation Institute’s tests on their “Rate My Treads” website.