The fact that these people put their boots on and go to work in any and all conditions demands that they deserve the right footwear to help them get the job done—and, more importantly, get home safe after every shift. (Dunlop Protective Footwear USA photo)

In Gas and Oil, It All Starts from the Ground Up

Different footwear materials have different pros and cons for workers in this industry.

The oil and gas business was built from the ground up, from the feet of the roughneck. It's a demanding industry that asks people to venture out, conquering hazardous terrain and working long hours in constantly changing climates. Advancements in oil rig and drill site technologies have been made to increase productivity and safety, but a fundamental component of the industry has been left relatively untouched until now. The roughneck boot has undergone a long-overdue transformation in recent years with the introduction of the Purofort® boot.

There are truly three different materials that best serve the OGM marketplace: You have the classic leather boot that has been worn in the USA since oil was found centuries ago, the rubber or neoprene boot that went out to the field at the turn of the 20th century, and the PuroFort® or high-pressure polyurethane or PU boot.

Each boot has its own set of pros and cons. Understanding the work environment and what elements your team will face are important factors in deciding which boot is the best solution for your workforce.

You should always make sure that your footwear has the right safety components—protective toe cap, protective mid-plate, and the right EH properties. As all of the boots listed below provide models with these components, we will leave this out of our comparison.

The Materials

Polyurethane is the latest in footwear innovation. PU boots are created by combining Polyol and Isocyanate and other ingredients depending on the end users' needs with millions of air bubbles, creating a lightweight, thermo-regulating, long-lasting boot. PU boots can be created through two different processes; the basic way is a low-pressure system that creates a good boot, and the optimal is a high-pressure system that will produce a lighter, stronger, and more flexible boot. For our purposes, we will focus on high-pressure PU boots.

Waterproof: PU boots are inherently waterproof, no treatment added or coating needs to be added, which means the waterproof properties never fade and cannot be washed away.

Temperature: PU boots provide thermo regulation, not just insulation. The air bubbles help keep hot and cold air out of the boot, keeping your foot at the temperature as when you put it in. For example, these boots can be worn in the oil sands of Canada all year round, keeping your feet warm in the winter and cool in the summer.

Weight: Being engineered of air bubbles makes for an extremely light weight. PU boots are on average 40 percent lighter than neoprene boots, 45 percent lighter than PVC boots. On average, they help to keep over 500 pounds of walking weight off your feet throughout the work day vs. leather boots.

Comfort: High pressure PU boots are extremely flexible yet amazingly abrasion resistant. PU boots are 40 percent more flexible than neoprene boots, almost 80 percent more flexible than PVC, and 55 percent more flexible than leather. That flexibility, combined with its lightweight properties, provides a boot that moves and flexes with every step, providing extreme comfort.

Slip: These boots carry the vaunted SRC slip rating. SRC is the most stringent specification for safety footwear and slip resistance. SRC tests the product under two separate conditions: ceramic tile wetted with dilute soap solution and tested on smooth steel with glycerol. These represent the oil rig and drill site floor conditions. You can find some PU boots' Vibram rubber outsole that is also SRC rated, providing some of the best slip resistance on the planet in any surface.

Recommended end user applications: upstream oil drill site, oil rig, midstream, and pipeline and transportation.

Neoprene boots came into heavy use at the beginning of the last century. They are waterproof boots with good chemical resistance. The boots are made by layering sheets of rubber around a mold and then they are dipped in a liquid latex neoprene formula to create a seamless coating. Vulcanization further seals and strengthens this watertight material. Additional layers can be applied to critical stress points.

Waterproof: Neoprene is 100 percent waterproof because it made of rubber, but the layer of rubbers can possibly crack over time, which can affect its waterproof qualities.

Temperature: Neoprene boots are not thermo regulating. They require thick socks in the cold, and they trap heat in the summer, causing sweaty feet.

Weight: The chemical protection that the layered rubber provides does add weight. Some boots are a little lighter than others, but the classic brown and crème boots can be on the heavier side of boots.

Comfort: Neoprene boots have been worn for almost 100 years, and the comfort of the boot has not evolved much from the beginning. The rubber boot offers shock-absorbing qualities to provide walking comfort. Outside of the moderate temperatures, your feet can be either cold or hot and require additional insulation in the winter.

Slip: Most neoprene boots have the battle-tested classic rubber chevron outsole, which provides good slip on tile and concrete surfaces. Unlike the PU boots, most neoprene boots do not pass SRC ratings and fail on steel, which is trouble for working on oil rigs. The band around the neoprene boots can trap in mud, making the boot heavier and creating a slip hazard when going from mud to a flat surface.

OGM recommended end user environments: downstream refinery, midstream transportation.

PVC boots are made up of PVC compounds along with other additives to give them various protective qualities. PVC boots can be manufactured with additives that can provide extremely strong chemical resistance. PVC boots can be a very cost-effective way to protect during turnarounds and contractors on a job site for short-term use.

Waterproof: 100 percent waterproof because PVC is naturally waterproof.

Temperature: PVC boots offer no thermo insulation or regulation. These boots are the temperature of the environment they are in.

Weight: PVC boots have various weights depending on the end user needs, but they are commonly on the heavier side. Some new general-use PVC boots are lightweight but offer only waterproof protection along with ASTM certified steel safety components.

Comfort: PVC boots offer minimum comfort and are best worn during short periods. Many brands have made advancements in PVC comfort.

Slip: PVC boots provide various levels of slip resistance on a variety of surfaces. With PVC boots, it is vital to make sure you have the right outsole for your working environment.

OGM recommended end user environments: Upstream for contractors or daily workers needing waterproof steel-toe boots, downstream high chemical resistance boots.

Leather is the oldest material on the list but has been proven over time. The wellington boot started it all and helped deliver Napoleon his waterloo, the cowboy boot help tamed the West, and the leather work boot riveted its way up the sky to help build America’s cities.

Waterproof: Leather is not naturally waterproof, so it must be treated with a waterproof treatment, which can fade out over time.

Temperature: Leather boots can be built with insulation materials such as thiosulfate® or Gore-Tex®, to provide thermo insulation. Unlike PU, you will need different types of leather boots for hot or cold climates.

Weight: Leather boots are designed and built for many different climates, so the weight varies for a summer boot vs. a winter boot. The weight also varies depending on what material the outsole is made of.

Comfort: Leather boots can be very comfortable once you have gone through the process of breaking them in. They naturally do not provide the flexibility or stretch of a PU boot.

Slip: Leather boots for the OGM marketplace get their slip properties by adding a different material to the outsole. Understanding your work environment is vital to choosing the right outsole for the job.

OGM recommended end user environments: upstream oil drill sites and midstream transportation.

Spending long days out in the worst conditions that mother nature can conjure up is just another day at the office for those in the oil and gas industry. Having the right footwear for the job may be the difference to making it through the day. The high-pressure polyurethane boots can offer a one-stop shop solution for hot, cold, wet, and drill sites on land and offshore. PVC boots can be a great solution for contractors and temporary workers upstream, as well as for high chemical protection downstream.

The classic neoprene boot is a solid solution for mild climates and downstream refineries. And lastly, the leather boot comes with various features and benefits, but more often than not the end user is going to need different boots for different environments, and since you are almost always wet in oilfields, these boots must be replaced more often than the other boots.

The fact that these people put their boots on and go to work in any and all conditions demands that they deserve the right footwear to help them get the job done—and, more importantly, get home safe after every shift.

This article originally appeared in the June 2018 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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