Prevent injury when 'Slip Slidin' Away'

  • Published
  • By Kevin McDowell
  • 509th Bomb Wing Ground Safety Manager
Do you recall the words to the following Paul Simon song?

"Slip slidin' away, you know the nearer your destination, the more you're slip slidin' away."

Well, tis that season ... the cold, wet, icy, yucky, "slip slidin' away" conditions.

Every year many people sustain injuries from slipping on the ice and other surfaces. Whether it is in the comfort of the vehicle, or walking across the parking lot to get to the safety of the building, people are slidin' away and enduring painful injuries. Sprains, strains, fractures, and concussions are commonly sustained from slips and falls during these icy conditions. And believe it or not, contrary to popular belief, there is something you can do about it.

First, consider using an abbreviated version of risk management or ACT; Assess the risk, Consider the options, and Take appropriate measures.

The biggest factor in falls is the poor selection of footwear. I remember years ago, when every one wore rubber boots and overshoes? My mother referred them as "Galoshes." They were very common, at least until the last few decades. Somehow they became passé, old fashioned, and basically not cool. Unfortunately, the shoes commonly worn by many today have smooth soles, eliminating any traction that could possibly prevent a fall. Overshoes and other winter footwear provide a bit of traction, and a few styles even have grit or studs embedded in the rubber material to provide additional traction on the slickest surfaces.

Creating footwear with traction is not a new idea, in the 1920s a slaughter house employee named John Sipe became frustrated from slipping on the slick floors. He made a series of small cuts in his shoes to give him better traction on the slick floors. His idea was a simple yet an ingenious solution to a common problem. In fact, this process is used on many vehicle tires today to provide increased traction for vehicles, and can even be applied after market by many tire dealers.

As a pedestrian, you need to ensure you have the same coefficiency of friction while walking. Take a look at the surface of your footwear, if they are slick, or almost flat, you will have less friction to prevent your foot from sliding out from under you while walking. Select footwear that has as much potential for friction as you can find.

Wear rubber overshoes over your shoes, or select a pair of winter footwear having significant tread on the bottom. Select winter footwear with a significant tread that prevents sliding at all angles. Treads designed with a straight line may prevent you from sliding front and back; however it will not prevent your foot from sliding side to side.

In addition to proper footwear, you also must recognize the hazards of icy conditions, and adopt a footstep that will reduce the potential of falling. It is simply a matter of physics.
Think about how a baby walks. First, they keep their body directly over their feet; reducing the chance of their feet from sliding out from underneath them. Then they walk with their legs flexed at the knees, ready to sit down if they feel they are going to fall.

Take a lesson from babies, and adopt a walking style that mimics a baby's footstep. Carefully place your foot out in front you with slow, deliberate, and very short steps. Make sure your foot is secure before lifting your next foot off the ground. Keep your body centered over both feet, and be prepared to shift more weight to the other foot if you feel a foot start to slide on the ice.

If you find yourself about to fall, do not panic, and don't try to prevent it. Trying to prevent a fall is almost a guaranteed way to sustain an injury. The best way to prevent an injury is to accept the fact that you are going to fall. First, bend your knees and prepare to either sit or roll into the fall. This will do two things; first of all, it will position your body weight much closer to the ground, greatly reducing the force of impact when you contact the ground. Second, it will remove the tension from your joints, again reducing the likelihood of injury to the joints when you contact the ground. Granted, you will not gain any points for poise and style, but you may prevent an injury and possibly a long stay in bed.

In addition to walking, be aware of the surface when exiting or entering the vehicle. If it is icy, prepare yourself for a potential fall. Keep at least three points of contact at all time with your hands and feet. This will help to support you in the event a foot does slip out while you are transferring your weight on, or off the feet as you enter or exit the vehicle. Preparing yourself ahead of time is the key to preventing injury.

With the application of risk management; proper footwear on your feet, adapted walking style for the slick conditions, and with a proper fall technique in your head you will no longer have to worry about getting injured from a fall on slippery surfaces. "You know the "nearer your destination, the more you're slip slidin' away."