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How to Choose Proper Footwear and Accessories This Winter
Between slippery terrain, wind chill, and precipitation, winter can create an extremely unsafe environment for employees. Feet are often overlooked but are important parts of our bodies we should protect in the winter. Many people do not realize that the feet contain special blood vessels that open up to pass large quantities of blood through them, allowing the body to heat quickly. When we keep our feet warm during the winter months, we can keep our whole body at a more regulated temperature. However, neglecting foot care during the winter leads us to dry, cracked feet or stiff joints.
The snow, ice, and wet sludge often found in piles in the parking lot can be trekked into the workplace, multiplying the number of slippery surfaces and the potential for accidents. In the United States in 2014, there were 42,480 workplace injuries and illnesses involving ice, sleet, or snow, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.1 Many of these injuries were slips, trips, and falls that were preventable, had people been more prepared for the conditions at hand (and foot).
Often times, employees may not be educated on the correct footwear to choose to protect them in the workplace. In an office with different roles and responsibilities, it's important each individual knows what tools to look for in order to meet his or her specific foot-care needs. One single corporation can have different employee types: administrative 9-5 workers, active sales teams, and warehouse workers. It's important these employees are not bunched up into one category of winter preparedness. Here are a few tips on how to help employees identify the proper footwear and accessories, based on their role.
In a setting where people are sedentary at their desks for a majority of the day, it's unlikely that these employees require or need heavy-duty traction boots, because they aren't in a setting where they are moving around from one station to another. These employees are more likely to get sore and stiff muscles stemming from cold feet and ankles.
While the walk from the parking lot to the office may be short, this is where they can gather sludge and water onto their shoes, with added wind chills causing their bodies to lose a lot of heat. This cold weather can cause stiff muscles in and around the feet, increasing their chances of slips, trips, and falls on their way into or once they get inside the office. To keep the cold from lingering, investing in warm, wool socks2 will allow heat to be entrapped from the beginning. The key to a good, warm day starts with our feet.
When looking into purchasing winter socks, make sure the fabric consists of at least 50 percent wool fibers—it is the best for naturally absorbing moisture. This not only keeps feet dry in the harshest conditions, but also protects against cold and heat. Investing in a pair that uses double thick yarn, wearers benefit from double the moisture wicking capabilities and ensure the driest possible feet throughout the day. An added bonus would be finding a pair that is anti-microbial to help prevent bacteria buildup, because bacteria can cause several other foot problems.
Sales team members are often on the go—running around from one location to another, gathering lots of snow and sludge on their feet from the outdoors. Due to their constant movement, focusing on shoes with good traction is a top priority. Slippery terrain such as parking lots can greatly increase the chances of falling. Employers are also liable for injuries outside of the workplace, such as parking lots; these can be a hazardous environment that can result in potential injury lawsuits. For this reason, supplying these on-the-go employees with insulated boots and heavy traction is important.
To ensure employee safety, suggest waterproof boots that provide good traction and warmth. The traction is the most important, as it helps to avoid the slips and falls. The outsoles of winter boots are ergonomically designed to grip onto slick surfaces better than your standard work boots and shoes.
When looking at the traction of the boot, make sure the outsole is made of soft rubber, since it is more slip resistant than other outsole compounds. The bottom of the shoe also indicates a level of traction by including a tread pattern that doesn’t allow water in. Aside from choosing the right outsole, finding a winter boot that is waterproof will help keep feet dry, even when walking in slippery, cold weather conditions. Buying a boot that has internal insulation keeps our feet warm, which allows muscles to stay relaxed all day.
Because warehouse workers are on their feet all day, comfort is a top priority. Although these employees may not spend much time outdoors, they still face numerous workplace hazards because they stand for a majority of their day. The cold winter weather typically exacerbates issues, such as stiff ankles, which require added comfort to reduce pain. Providing anti-fatigue insoles3 that have added shock absorption will aid in relieving stiff muscle soreness throughout the day. For maximum protection and comfort, anti-fatigue insoles with dual layered memory foam offer the most support and foot pain relief. Some insoles on the market are even machine washable!
Workplaces often utilize anti-fatigue matting to prevent slips, trips, and falls. However, these well-intentioned efforts often become extremely hazardous, especially during the winter months. Floor matting collects water, debris, and slush, which make it slippery and difficult to maintain proper traction. They also peel, chip, and become uneven. Anti-fatigue insoles provide employees and employers with a lasting, safe, and healthy solution. They provide the wearer with constant comfort, support, and shock absorption while reducing slips, trips, and falls.
During the cold winter months when temperatures drop, the blood vessels in extremities constrict to help minimize heat loss. When these vessels contract, there is a lack of blood flow causing pain in those specific areas. While it is unpleasant to deal with cold hands, it can be detrimental to suffer from cold feet as you are standing, walking, and moving throughout the day.
If the company budget does not allow for these added purchases, having a seminar on winter foot preparedness can be extremely beneficial. Explaining the potentially harmful occurrences that lack of heat, traction, and comfort to the feet can cause will likely encourage employees to take their foot health more seriously this winter. Buying proper winter footwear and accessories is not only beneficial for their health, but can also help to prevent injuries.
When discussing how to prepare for winter foot health, employees also should be reminded of how to take care of their feet outside of the office. While warm socks, insoles, and insulated boots are beneficial at the workplace, these measures can also cause "winter heels," which consists of cracked skin and fungal infections. In order to maintain healthy feet outside of the office, suggest a few daily tips everyone can use when they get home, such as: take off wet shoes/socks right away; use hydrating foot cream or Vaseline; soak in a warm bath; and smooth out heels with a pumice stone. Getting in the daily habit of taking care of our feet is extremely important, especially in the winter months.
Foot care and health deserve attention year round. However, the winter months present some greater challenges that require employers to be proactive and provide employees with reliable solutions. Instead of becoming a slip, trip, and fall statistic, workplaces can implement safety programs, such as an anti-fatigue insole program, to instantly provide employees with safety solutions.
This article originally appeared in the January/February 2019 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.