Choosing the Right Protective Footwear
A larger selection of brands usually means a larger selection of comfort technologies, and a larger selection of styles usually means more satisfied workers.
The workplace is full of potential hazards to the American worker. When these hazards cannot be engineered out and administrative measures do not reduce the exposure, the employer is required to determine whether and what type of personal protection equipment may be needed.
A 2010 Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Survey of Occupational Injuries and Illness report cited more than 49,000 injuries to the foot/toe for an injury rate of 4.9 per 100,000 full time workers. Median time away from work for all foot-related injuries was seven days; for those with a fracture, the median time away was 20 days. A separate BLS study determined that 75 percent of accidents occurred when workers were not wearing protective toe footwear.
Referenced in the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Title 29 are the Occupational Safety and Health Administration guidelines for Occupational Foot Protection, 29 CFR 1910.136, which states, "each affected employee shall wear protective footwear when working in areas where there is danger of foot injury due to falling or rolling objects, or objects piercing the sole, and where such employee's feet are exposed to electrical hazards."
OSHA standard 1910.136 refers to an American National Standards Institute standard (ANSI Z41) for its performance criteria. However, on March 1, 2005, ANSI Z41 was withdrawn and replaced by the American Society of Testing and Materials International (ASTM) standards ASTM F2412-05, Standard Test Methods for Foot Protection, and F2413-05, Standard Specification for Performance Requirements for Protective (Safety) Toe Cap Footwear. These standards were reviewed and updated in 2011 to F2412-11 and F2413-11.
Protective toe footwear has proven to reduce foot injuries in both frequency and in severity.
The most common considerations for worker foot protection are to the toe area from impact (I75 identifies protection against impact hazard) and compression (C75 identifies protection against rolling or compression hazards, something rolling onto the toe). However, under the standards there are five other protection performance requirements to consider:
- Metatarsal impact protection (Mt) to reduce exposure to the to the forefoot (metatarsal) area of the foot from impact hazards.
- Conductive properties (Cd) to identify footwear intended to provide protection to the wearer against hazards from static electricity buildup and to reduce the possibility of ignition of explosive or volatile chemicals. (Please consult your footwear provider for additional information. It is important to note that conductive footwear should not be worn near open electrical circuits.)
- Electrical hazard (EH) identifies footwear intended to provide secondary protection against accidental contact with live electrical circuits.
- Static dissipative (SD) identifies footwear designed to reduce excess static build-up while maintaining sufficient resistance to the wearer from electrical shock.
- Puncture resistance (PR) identifies footwear designed and constructed with a puncture-resisting device between the insole and outsole as a permanent and integral part of the footwear, for protection from objects penetrating the sole of the footwear.
- Dielectric footwear is designed as additional protection against shock from contact with electrical conductors, apparatus, or circuits and consists of overshoes in three types: rubbers, boots, and galoshes. Dielectric footwear is covered under ASTM F1116 and F1117 standards.
Further detail of the standards may be obtained by contacting www.astm.org.
While the following properties are not part of the ASTM foot protection standards, they should be considered when assessing the footwear program:
- Slip hazards. Work with your footwear provider to find best solutions.
- Cold environments. Consider insulated footwear.
- Wet environments. Suggest waterproof footwear.
- High heat, molten metal. Discuss and work with your footwear provider for styles designed with heat-resisting leathers and heat-resisting soles and constructions.
A comprehensive assessment of the footwear needs for the facility should be completed by department with the above as a list of considerations. A reputable footwear supplier may be a good resource to assist in completing the assessment and make recommendations based on 1) protection levels needed and 2) footwear durability in the environment in which they will be exposed.
The assessment should consider facility-wide needs, department needs, and specific job functions and be documented as above.
Once the program requirements and parameters have been established, the next step is to work with potential suppliers and ask what processes they have established to ensure and drive compliance to the safety and performance criteria required. The most comprehensive management systems will offer automated control and manage at the point of sale, as well as backdrop compliance reporting.
Form Follows Function
A very visible sign of a company's commitment to worker safety is a strong footwear program. Safety administrators should look at their footwear PPE program, with the first priority to ensure safety protection levels are met, followed by style. Employees/end users tend to consider style and comfort first in selecting footwear and as PPE second. These two views become even more important when you consider that protective toe footwear is the most personal PPE item that employees/end users don and doff every day.
With the vast offering of protective toe footwear today, there are brands and styles to meet all of the needs above. From dress casuals, athletics, and Western boots to traditional work styles and specialty footwear, there is a great offering to meet both the protection levels as well as personal aesthetic needs.
In choosing a footwear vendor, consideration should be given to its selection of brands and styles. A larger selection of brands usually means a larger selection of comfort technologies, and a larger selection of styles usually means more satisfied workers.
There are several protective footwear service models to consider in a footwear program implementation. The service model should provide the best selection, delivery, accessibility, and process for both program administrators and employees/end users.
One of the most common service models, shoemobiles offer a selection of 55 to 100 styles and inventory of 900 to 2,000 pairs in stock. One of the most convenient models for employee/end users, this option makes the product available at the work site and offers the opportunity to view, touch, try on, and ask questions and obtain product guidance from knowledgeable service representatives. Shoemobiles offer scheduling flexibility and convenience to ensure access by all workers.
Several other models, such as dedicated website, mail order, in-plant stores, and local outlets, can be utilized, as well. It is suggested that the selection of a reputable supplier that offers multi-channels of service be considered to ensure that the best service model--or a combination of service models--be utilized for a complete, comprehensive, and compliant footwear program.
ASTM has published a very useful publication, "Safety and Occupational Footwear." It was sponsored by the ASTM F13 Committee, Pedestrian/Walkway Safety and Footwear. The publication provides a brief overview of occupational footwear characteristics (design, materials, soles, etc.), as well as the specifications, test methods, and slip resistance. A copy may be requested via www.astm.org. Request ASTM Stock Number MNL71.
This article originally appeared in the September 2014 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.