Put Your Feet First
Don’t neglect your feet when choosing safety footwear.
- By Sandy Longarzo
- Sep 01, 2019
Safety boots have come a long way in the last few years, and the availability of choices in safety footwear is staggering. Safety boots can vary widely in quality and features. When considering safety footwear, certainly you want to consider the level of protection your boots are going to provide given your work environment, but you also want to take into consideration the features they offer with regard to comfort and overall foot health.
Let’s face it, when you’re on the job, and potentially on your feet for hours at a time, you don’t want to be distracted by your feet. So, what do you want to consider when choosing safety footwear?
Certainly, one of the first things you want to look for is a boot that is certified to ASTM F2413 for toe protection. Back in the day, there was ANSI Z41, but ASTM F2413 superseded that standard back in 2005. Most modern-day shoes are now certified to the ASTM standard. The most current edition is the ASTM F2413-2018 edition (meaning the edition was revised in 2018), replacing ASTM F2413-2011 edition. Since it takes a bit of time for manufacturers to go through a third-party certification process, especially when a new version of a standard comes out, boots certified to the new 2018 edition will just be hitting the market.
Boots can be certified just for the basic impact (I) and compression (C) for the toe caps, or manufacturers can choose to get additional optional certifications as well. Optional add on certifications are metatarsal protection (Mt), Conductive protection (Cd), Electrical hazard protection (EH), Static Dissipative protection (SD) and Puncture resistance (PR). All certified boots will have a combination of these abbreviations on the inside label of the boot, depending on what it is certified for.
Take into consideration what you need for working at your particular job, such as the need for electrical hazard protection or puncture resistance in the sole. Bear in mind that electrical hazard protection and static dissipative features are mutually exclusive. A boot can only be one or the other, but not both. Think of it this way, one helps to prevent electricity from coming into the body (EH), the other helps to prevent you from emitting static electricity (SD). Boots that are certified conductive (Cd) are similar to static dissipative boots; conductive boots just “conduct” the static electricity faster and more completely than static dissipative boots. Also be aware that in the case of EH rated boots, they are not meant to be the primary source of protection, but only a secondary source of protection.
Alignment and Support
Besides looking for footwear that is certified to the safety standard, other factors should come into play when deciding on your footwear because your feet are the foundation on which your body rests. The muscle chains that hold our body upright and permit us to stand, run, carry heavy objects and much more, all have their origins in the feet. The foot contains 26 different bones. The shape of these, and the muscle and ligaments to which they are attached, are precisely aligned so that you can withstand the stresses of everyday life without any issues.
Did you know that during the course of an average lifetime, your feet will transport you a distance equivalent to going around the world up to four times? That’s a lot of work for your feet, especially while having to carry the weight of your body. And if you pick incorrect footwear, you can place additional burdens on to your feet.
The foot and the boot must form a functional unit. The main tasks of the boot are to not only provide protection from work hazards, but also provide any support necessary to meet the specific demands placed on it without affecting the foot’s bio-mechanical properties. For example, having adequate cushioning and shock absorption, keeping the foot aligned in the correct position for muscle balance, and to prevent malpositions of the feet.
Currently 65 percent of people between the age of 19 to 34 are already suffering from irreparable malposition to the feet and suffering from the resultant changes to their musculoskeletal system. Symptoms resulting from foot problems can manifest itself into unexplained aches and pains to the back, head, knees, or feet. Incorrect foot positions can ultimately lead to incorrect posture. Boots are actually made on foot “lasts.” These are foot forms, and ultimately determine the final fit of a boot or shoe, because the shoe is built and molded based around the foot last. Manufacturers will generally have their own lasts, and these can vary widely between manufacturers. The best lasts are those that are built anatomically correct based on orthopedic parameters. These types of lasts will result in a boot that will follow the form of your foot, and ultimately provide footwear that will be more comfortable.
Anatomically correct lasts will have a more pronounced arch and provide more arch support, especially for those who have flatter feet. Good arch support will support the natural curvature of the foot and helps to keep the foot in the best position for optimal foot health. Look for boots that mention arch support, especially if you will be standing on the job for long periods of time.
Since we are talking about safety boots, toe protection certainly is the biggest player here. Your toe cap needs to protect you from impact and compression, and if certified, the toe already meets the ASTM testing standard. The question then becomes, whether the toe caps should be steel or composite. Composite toe caps are becoming more and more popular as they can help reduce the weight of a boot.
Manufacturers are designing boots using newer, more modern technologies to make boots lighter and more comfortable. One thing to note with composite toe caps, you may have a smaller toe box than with a steel toe. This is because the thickness of the toe cap must be thicker in a composite toe than a steel toe in order to provide enough protection from the impact and compression as dictated by ASTM. In the end, it is more a matter of personal preference whether to go with a composite or a steel toe.
Other factors to consider when choosing quality safety boots is whether you would like leather or fabric. Good quality leather will be more durable, and some leathers are breathable as well. If you need a waterproof boot, look for a waterproof inner liner that will also wick moisture and allow your feet to breathe. This will help prevent your feet from getting too hot and sweaty, and moisture wicking properties will help keep your feet dry.
As a tip, a good quality wool blend sock will help keep your feet warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer by helping to keep foot temperature regulated and aids in wicking moisture. Cotton socks will just absorb foot sweat, keep your feet damp, and lead to the possibility of blisters. Cotton socks can also interfere with the moisture wicking properties and breathability of a boot. Feet that are too hot, sweaty, and uncomfortable can be a distraction from the job at hand.
Not to be left out, consider what type of sole you need for the job that you do. Slip resistance can certainly be a factor in a lot of jobs, look for a sole that mentions it offers slip resistance. Oil and fuel resistance may be needed in some environments, and there are soles that are able to withstand exposure to these chemicals over time better than others; look for a sole that mentions it is oil and fuel resistant.
If you are you outdoors in cold weather, you may need to consider a softer sole that won’t harden in colder temperatures, which could certainly be a hazard for slip and falls. On the flip side, however, maybe you have exposure to higher temperature surfaces and need a sole that is heat resistant. Also consider whether you need to have puncture protection in your soles, ASTM does offer puncture resistance (PR) as part of its optional testing, so be sure to look for that to be mentioned on the label.
As mentioned, there is a wide array of safety shoe models on the market to choose from. You want to protect your feet, not only from hazards in the workplace, but you want to protect the health of your feet as well. Invest in a good quality pair of boots that will take care of your feet and your feet will take care of you. A good pair of quality boots will last longer and treat you better in the long run. Do some research and get what’s best for you, and not just what looks eye-catching on the shelf.
This article originally appeared in the September 2019 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.