The subject of Safety Footwear has been widely written about and discussed. I am sure that we all know about safety footwear, yet we still get it wrong. So, let us refresh our memory of the importance of safety footwear and how best to maximise its use as Personal Protective Footwear.
A little over seven years ago, my friends and I decided to climb Mount Kilimanjaro; well with hindsight, I can say with all honestly it was more of a trek than a climb, but nevertheless a very challenging trek. Besides fitness level and mental preparation there were a lot of other considerations albeit, mainly equipment preparation. The right clothing, sleeping bag, wet wipes and trekking shoes. Although in this case the trekking shoes were not ‘work equipment’ they were part of my Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). They were there to serve several purposes, such as protecting me from slipping in wet and icy conditions, keep my feet dry and warm, protect my feet from large stones, and keep my feet and toes from blisters and discomfort due to long hours of walking.
When going shopping for them I discovered that there is a vast selection of different types of trekking shoes at different price ranges. Some had ankle protection, others did not; some were made for snow, others for woodlands. The choice was vast and at some point, I did feel confused. Doing research and seeking advice from those who have previously climbed the mountain helped enormously in clearing my head and making the decision.
Similarly, if we look at Personal Protective Footwear (safety footwear) used for work, we will find an even bigger variety – different manufacturers, different purposes, some compliant with standards and others not, etc.
Safety footwear is designed to protect feet against a wide variety of injuries. Impact, compression, and puncture are the most common types of foot injury. If foot protection is required, a complete foot safety protection programme can be set up. Unfortunately, very few companies have actually implemented a foot safety programme, or any structured process that involves selection, fit testing, training, maintenance and care of safety footwear.
Safety Footwear Standard
All safety footwear across Europe must comply with minimum safety standards set out by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). The current standard for safety footwear across Europe is EN ISO 20345:2011. Under this standard, all safety footwear must now have toe protection against a 200 joule impact. Any product certified under any previous version of the standard (2004; 2007) was required to be recertified.
OSHAD SF – CoP 2.0
The requirements for a structured approach in the selection and management of PPE are identified in different standards, national and local legislation. In the Emirate of Abu Dhabi, the requirements are specified in OSHAD SF – CoP 2.0 Personal Protective Equipment.
Foot Safety Programme
Whether a company needs ten pairs of safety footwear or hundreds of them, it needs to have a structured approach that involves selection, fit testing, training, maintenance and inspection of safety footwear.
Whilst it is accepted that good design is important in ensuring that employees wear the PPE provided to them, nothing is more singularly important than the correct selection of PPE. Selecting the right safety footwear depends on many factors not the least of which include the job and its hazards, which exist in every workplace in many different forms. As safety professionals we all know that the best way to protect employees is to control these hazards at the source using engineering, work practice, administrative and collective controls. When these controls do not provide sufficient protection, suitable personal protective equipment (PPE) must be used. Safety footwear is a control measure, hence asking the question ‘what am I trying to protect my workers from?’ and getting the answer to this question is a fundamental part of this first step. Safety footwear is developed for a specific end user, whether that person is an electrician, or a carpenter. Selecting safety footwear should be dependent on the hazards and the potential injuries to the feet (impact, compression, puncture, etc.) and/or ankles (fractures, twisting, etc.). This should make choosing the proper safety footwear as easy as breaking down what is most important to keep safe and comfortable on the job. Here are a few things to consider:
Does your work require safety toe protection?
There are a number of safety toe options that protect the toes:
Steel Toe: Steel toe was traditionally used as the ultimate protection from falling objects or puncture to the foot. Steel toe protection is still one of the most popular and trusted forms of certified safety footwear.
Alloy Toe: Alloy is much lighter than a steel toe and just as strong, if not stronger. Any reduction in the weight of the shoe/boot could lead to a reduction in foot fatigue. This might be a selection criterion that is important if your workers are expected to work long hours.
Non-Metallic Toe: Workers have started using non-metallic toe protection because it can feel lighter and more comfortable. Additionally, the non-metallic toe is not electrically conductive, and the resistance to the transmission of heat or cold can make a big difference on the job site.
Does the job require static dissipative footwear protection?
Safety footwear can be designed to reduce the build-up of excess static electricity by transferring excess static electricity from the body to the ground.
Does the job require oil and/or slip-resistant footwear?
Oil-Resistant: This type of footwear is specially designed to perform in work environments where oil is a factor. These outsoles will resist the swelling and deteriorating effects of various types of oils. Slip-Resistant: Work boots can be developed to grip to dry and wet surfaces. Slip-resistant footwear can be tested to ASTM standards to ensure it meets this safety need.
Does the job require working in a variety of conditions?
Wedge and Low Lug Outsole:
A wedge outsole has low lugs that are great for not trapping mud or debris in the outsole. This outsole is particularly good when working in these conditions or doing a job, such as a framing or drywalling, that frequently involves work outside and in, without tracking debris inside.
Right Angle Heel and Heavy Lug Outsole: Working with any machinery or shovels requires a right-angle heel and aggressive lugs for traction and durability.
Does the job require long hours in warm climates and temperatures?
Safety footwear can be extremely comfortable with new, breathable technologies. For warmer climates indoors and outside, breathable materials can wick away moisture and keep feet drier and more comfortable. Breathable materials are performance technologies developed to create cooler footwear in warm conditions. This is particularly important in the Middle East, where the outside temperature can reach above 50 degrees Celsius during the summer months. Remember, that you might need to provide your workers with performance socks that will wick away moisture. General socks are not sufficient and can create blisters.