Pitt Researchers Seeking to Make Floors Less Slippery

Pittsburgh, PA, December 2, 2021-- The University of Pittsburgh’s Kurt Beschorner and Tevis Jacobs will use an award from the National Institute for Occupational Safety & Health (NIOSH) to measure roughness of floor surfaces on the smallest scales ever measured. They will then use those measurements to build a model of friction performance with the long-term goal of innovating high-friction flooring to prevent occupational slips and falls. 

Friction is caused, in part, by small features on two surfaces in contact. Even if a floor may look smooth there is still some degree of topography; however, these roughness features can be difficult to measure, especially on a small scale. 

“More than 140,000 workers suffer from fall-related injuries each year, and about half of them result from a slip,” said Beschorner, associate professor of bioengineering. “Designing specific, high-friction flooring could mitigate these injuries, but we need a better understanding of the flooring factors that lead to friction.”

“To date, despite research worldwide, no one has yet reliably connected flooring topography to friction measurements for flooring,” said Eric Astrachan, executive director of the Tile Council of North America. “This is the ‘Holy Grail’ for flooring design, where an understanding of measurable topography parameters-parameters that also affect aesthetics and cleanability-can be used in the design phase to engineer flooring slip resistance.” 

Studies suggest that small-scale topography-raised features resembling a mountain range on the micron or nanometer scale-is key to managing slips on a surface. Beschorner and Jacobs will measure this type of floor-surface topography and create a predictive model of friction based on the results.