Posted on May 22 2019
Many items that we use every day have carefully designed safety features. Our cars are loaded with everything from anti-lock brakes and backup cameras to crumple zones and airbags. Our coffee pots turn themselves off after we leave the house. Our kitchen and bathroom outlets have ground-fault interrupters. But even though we carefully design safety features into everything from medicine bottle lids to the strings on sweatshirt hoods, we don’t always choose these items for their safety. Especially when it comes to things we wear, our choices tend to be more about performance, appearance, and comfort.
In the workplace, we need to think a little differently. Workplace clothing has the potential to increase or decrease exposure to and protection from workplace hazards. Footwear is one important example. Shoes and boots, especially modern protective footwear, can do much more than look good and provide arch support for all-day comfort. The right work shoes can prevent injuries to workers’ feet, provide protection against electrical shock and slip, trip and fall hazards, and even offer support for workers who stand all day—but just like when you’re buying a car, it’s important to know what features are available, what features will be useful, and which ones are worth paying for.
Here’s a look at how a good pair of shoes can put your workplace safety program on a stronger footing.
Do You Need Protective Footwear?
How do you know if you really need to put a protective footwear program in place? OSHA’s general industry requirements for protective footwear, found in Subpart I, Personal Protective Equipment, outline the conditions under which protective footwear is a regulatory requirement. A careful hazard assessment will tell you whether those conditions—or other hazardous conditions not covered by OSHA—apply to your workplace.
The OSHA standard. Protective footwear is subject to the general requirements applicable to all PPE in 29 CFR 1910.132, and to the specific foot protection requirements found in 29 CFR 1910.136.
OSHA general requirements for personal protective equipment (PPE) and its specific requirements for protective footwear include:
• PPE must be provided wherever workers are exposed to process or environmental hazards that could cause bodily injury or impairment. In the case of protective footwear, employers must require its use whenever workers may be injured by:
–– Falling or rolling objects
–– Objects that could pierce the sole of the foot
–– Static discharge or electric shock hazards
• Equipment must be provided, used, and maintained in a sanitary and reliable condition. When employees provide their own equipment, as is often the case with protective footwear, the employer is responsible for ensuring that the equipment is adequate and properly maintained.
• PPE must be selected based on the hazards of the workplace. Employers are required to perform a written hazard assessment and keep a record of it.
• PPE must properly fit the worker.
• Workers must be trained in the proper use and care of their PPE.
• Protective footwear must comply with the ASTM F2413 standard that is incorporated by reference in the OSHA foot protection standard. The ASTM
standard is currently being updated with a 2018 publication
A workplace foot hazard assessment. As with any other piece of personal protective equipment, an effective foot protection program begins with a thorough hazard assessment. OSHA requires your hazard assessment record to identify:
• The workplace being evaluated
• The person performing the evaluation
• The date(s) of the hazard assessment
In the assessment itself, hazards that may either directly affect workers’
feet, or that may affect workers through their feet (for example, slip, trip, and fall hazards or chemical absorption hazards) should be identified. Make a note of:
• Any chemicals, corrosives, or toxic materials that could come into contact with workers’ feet. Consider whether workers could be exposed through wet
surfaces, spills, or splashes, and whether corrosive materials could permeate through ordinary shoes.
• Sharp objects, like wire, metal shavings, splinters, and similar hazards that could puncture the soles of normal shoes.
• Rotating blades, like chainsaws, that can pose an injury or amputation
hazard from above.
• Weather hazards, particularly rain and ice, that can make work surfaces dangerously slick. In extremely cold and/or wet environments, workers may also face hazards from frostbite or trench foot.
• Burn hazards, such as molten metal, work surfaces in the roofing and paving industry, fires, and other heat-related hazards.
• Falling or rolling objects, including equipment (such as forklifts)
or materials (such as sheet metal rolls) that create both impact and compression hazards.
• Slick surfaces that create a slip and fall hazard. This may include not only wet surfaces, but also certain types of flooring materials.
• Electrical hazards, which may be connected to the workers’ job tasks, rather than a specific work location.
Which Protective Footwear Should You Choose?
There is no one protective shoe that meets the needs of all industries or protects against all hazards. But for most common workplaces, there is a protective shoe or boot designed to best fit your needs. Some of the industry, or hazard-specific, challenges you may face are outlined below.
Shoes and boots, especially modern protective footwear, can do much more than look good and provide arch support for all-day comfort.
Protecting against chemical hazards. Choosing protective footwear for exposure to chemical hazards will be similar to choosing protective gloves or clothing. Whatever material protects workers hands and bodies best will also be available as a protective footwear material. Common chemical protective footwear materials include rubber, PVC, and neoprene. Chemical protective
footwear can also incorporate features such as steel toes to protect against other worksite hazards.
Protecting against electrical hazards. There are four different classes of shoes that are designed to protect against electrical hazards of different types—and it’s
absolutely vital to choose the correct ones!
• Dielectric footwear is worn by electricians, linemen, and others who may come into contact with live electrical circuits as part of their jobs. These boots may have steel toes or shanks, but those will be enclosed in insulating
materials that provide grounding and reduce the risk of electrocution.
• Static Dissipative (SD) footwear. These boots are designed to dissipate static electricity that can accumulate on the body, while also providing a measure of protection against electrocution. They are worn by workers
in electronics assembly and other industries where static electricity can damage sensitive parts.
• Conductive (CD) footwear. In work environments where explosives
are handled, or where highly flammable atmospheres are common, a static electric spark can be disastrous. These workers must prevent any accumulation of static electricity. CD footwear offers no protection against electrocution or contact with live electrical circuits.
• Electrical Hazard (EH) footwear. Designed to impede or significantly
reduce the flow of electricity through the footwear and into the ground, Electrical Hazard boots or shoes greatly reduce the likelihood of electrocution and will have a clearly visible “EH” on the ASTM label sewn inside the footwear.
There is no one protective shoe that meets the needs of all industries or protects against all hazards. But for most common workplaces, there is a protective shoe or boot designed to best fit your needs.
Protecting against compression and impact hazards. Although you may think of steel toes when you think of the compression and impact protection provided by a pair of safety shoes or boots, the protective toe compartment may not be made of steel at all. There are lighter-weight options that also provide protection
while increasing the length of time that a worker can wear a boot comfortably.
• Steel toes. The tried-and-true steel toe provides affordable protection, but it can be heavy and uncomfortable, and it sets off metal detectors in secured areas.
• Aluminum toes. Aluminum provides protection equivalent to steel, but it is lighter weight and thinner. It does cost a little more, and it will also set off metal detectors in secured areas.
• Composite toes. Kevlar, plastic, carbon fiber, and fiberglass toe protection are also available. Workers may prefer composite toes in environments where temperature is an issue, because composites do not heat up or cool down like metals will. They’re also slightly lighter weight, increasing the time that workers can wear them comfortably, and they’re competitively priced.
• Metatarsal guards. To extend protection against impact and compression injuries beyond the toe box, some employers require shoes with metatarsal
guards. These extra protective covers may be external (mounted to the outside of the boot) or internal (built into the tongue area of the boot). The trade-off for the increase in protection is an increase in weight and stiffness,
and a decrease in comfort.
Protecting against construction hazards. One of the greatest challenges in choosing footwear for construction worksites is the number of hazards that are likely to be present. Most construction sites will have hazards that warrant the selection of protective footwear with non-conductive soles that offer both slip- and puncture-resistance, together with steel or composite toes. Other considerations in construction include:
• Ankle support. There is no requirement to provide ankle support, but on sites with rough ground, workers may prefer a boot to an athletic-style shoe that offers none.
• Metatarsal protection. On sites with heavy equipment, workers may also need metatarsal protection.
• Heat resistance. Roofers may also need shoes with heat-resistant
materials and construction
• Cut resistance. Workers who use chain saws or tools with rotating blades may need shoes made of cut-resistant materials.
• Puncture resistance. Sharp objects abound on construction sites, making puncture resistance a necessity.
Protecting against manufacturing hazards. Again, the specific combination of hazards in themanufacturing environment will dictate the features required in any
protective footwear. Many workers in manufacturing suggest that working a long shift on a hard concrete floor is an important consideration in shoe selection—they may want a shoe with more flexible construction than in some other environments. A basic steel-toed shoe or boot with good slip resistance should be adequate for most light manufacturing applications, with additional features
(e.g., water or heat resistance, metatarsal protection, or electrical hazard features) added based on the needs of the specific environment.
Protecting against forestry hazards. Workers in logging and forestry wear boots specifically designed to suit their needs. They are typically designed with a high ankle shaft (8–9 inches up the leg), as well as a high heel and a lug sole for good traction and support in an outdoor, wooded environment.
One of the greatest challenges in choosing footwear for construction worksites is the number of hazards that are likely to be present.
For impact and compression protection as well as chainsaw cut protection, they will be equipped either with steel or composite toes. To protect against weather hazards, they are generally waterproof; in cold environments, workers may also
choose an insulated boot.
Protecting against mining hazards. Like forestry boots, boots worn by miners often have high ankle shafts—as high as 10 inches—to provide protection and support. Steel, aluminum, or composite toes and metatarsal guards provide compression and impact protection. Insulation, waterproofing, and
puncture-resistant soles are standard in mining boots. Electrical protection may be required in some environments. Boot tips with high abrasion resistance can increase the useful life of mining boots.
Protecting visitors. Employers can require their own employees to wear safety shoes or boots, but what about visitors? They may be exposed to some of the same hazards— and they may pose more of a liability to the employer if they
are injured. If you cannot require all visitors to have safety shoes of their own, there are other options. Some employers keep a selection of safety shoes available that are sanitized after each use, similar to bowling shoes. If a safety toe and nonskid sole offer sufficient protection, steel-toed overshoes are available and can be worn over street shoes, but are not in compliance with current ASTM F2413 standards.
Best Practices for Your Protective Footwear Program
In order to ensure that your protective footwear program is effective at preventing injuries to workers’ feet, you’ll want to make sure that your protective footwear has been third-party tested; that it fits workers properly; and that it is replaced
when it has reached the end of its useful life.
Properly tested footwear. In order to ensure that footwear provides
adequate protection, it should meet the testing requirements set out in ASTM F2413. Protective footwear tested under this standard will have been tested and rated with respect to impact and compression resistance in the toe area;
metatarsal protection; static conductive or dissipative properties;
and puncture resistance. Look for the ASTM F2413 label on the footwear.
Properly fitted footwear. Most people know that they should buy shoes at the end of the day, when their feet are largest, and that they should size their shoes to fit whichever of their feet is larger. However, there are a couple more tips to correctly sizing protective footwear:
• Make sure the ball fits properly. The shoe should be snug, but not tight, across the ball of the foot.
• Make sure the shoe flexes, and does not pinch. Walk around in the shoe for fifteen minutes, and make sure that it flexes properly and does not pinch or dig into the foot.
Time for a new pair of shoes. Protective footwear can take quite a beating, and it can be tough to tell when they’ve had enough. It’s probably time for a new pair of safety shoes when:
• You can see the protective pieces. The toe box, metatarsal guard, shank and puncture-resistant insole of the shoe should not be visible.
• The tread is gone. If your slip-resistant sole is worn shiny and smooth, it has probably outlived its usefulness.
• The seams are separating. If the parts of the shoe or boot are becoming separated, or if it is leaking, it’s time for a new pair.
• You see cracks in the surface of the boot. This is a sure sign that it’s time for a pair of protective footwear to be retired.
Putting Your Program’s Best Foot Forward
While you will have to tailor any foot protection program to the unique hazards and challenges facing your industry or specific facility, these tips will help you better ensure compliance and put your organization on the right foot when it comes to consistently and effectively maintaining the safety of workers in the field.
From the moment employees step onto the jobsite to the minute they step off, a solid foot protection program will help you minimize injuries and associated costs, drive productivity, and encourage proper safety vigilance among workers.
Tingley offers a complete line of Protective Footwear and Clothing products. As a fifth generation family owned company, generations have trusted Tingley since 1896.
About the Author
This Insight Report was developed by Tingley in partnership with BLR’s EHS Daily Advisor editorial team. BLR offers industry-leading, award-winning content prepared by lawyers and safety professionals.