Pitt engineers aim to make floors less slippery
Pittsburgh, Pa – Kurt Beschorner and Tevis Jacobs of the University of Pittsburgh said they will use a prize from the National Institute for Occupational Safety & Health (NIOSH) to measure roughness on the smallest scales ever measured. They will use those measurements to build a friction performance model with the long-term goal of innovating high-friction floors to prevent slips and falls at work.
“Every year, more than 140,000 workers suffer from fall-related injuries, and about half of them are the result of a slip,” said Beschorner, an associate professor of bioengineering. “Designing specific high-friction floors could reduce these injuries, but we need a better understanding of the floor factors that lead to friction.”
Simulated interactions between rough shoes and floor space
“To date, despite worldwide research, no one has reliably associated floor topography with floor friction measurements,” said Eric Astrachan, executive director of the Tile Council of North America. “This is the ‘holy grail’ of floor design, where understanding measurable topographical parameters – parameters that also affect aesthetics and cleanability – can be used at the design stage to improve the slip resistance of floors.”
Beschorner and Jacobs will measure this type of floor surface topography and create a predictive model of friction based on the results.
“For this project, we will combine traditional measurements with metrics that can target smaller scales, including scanning electron microscopy,” Beschorner said.
Stylus profilometry compared to scanning electron microscopy
“Stylus profilometry works like a record player — a sharp needle is dragged across the surface and measures height as it moves. But this device doesn’t effectively detect the tiny features critical to friction on the shoe floor,” said Jacobs, an associate professor of mechanical engineering. and materials science. “Instead, we cut out a cross-section of the floor and use electron microscopy, which allows us to measure features a thousand times smaller.”
Slips and falls in the workplace cost $10 billion annually in workers’ compensation, according to the University of Pittsburgh. This work is expected to lead to improved low-friction floors that can help prevent these accidents and spare both businesses and workers the inconvenience of these injuries.
“Dr. Beschorner and Dr. Jacobs of the University of Pittsburgh are uniquely qualified to conduct this research that could have a direct impact on worker and consumer safety, a top priority of the Tile Council of North America and our member companies,” said Astrachan.