Trends in Industrial Footwear Protection
With evolving safety technologies come changes in foot protection. Here are four topics you don’t want to miss.
- By Brent Jennings
- Apr 01, 2020
Experts in the safety industry are constantly listening to customers, safety directors and industrial workers to understand and respond to concerns, needs and challenges surrounding footwear in harsh and changing environments. At the moment, there are four particular tends in footwear protection you won’t want to miss.
First, retailers and safety directors are reporting that more industries and companies are moving toward metatarsal protection in safety footwear requirements. This echoes feedback from site visits that accidents and injuries from falling objects or rolling dollies often center on the top-of-the-foot (metatarsal) region instead of the toe region, where caps are more often regulated. The worker will believe that he or she is safe when, in fact, an object can absolutely hit the top of the foot and miss the toe cap. This can result in broken bones and deep bruises. Companies will spend money purchasing footwear for employees and still see insurance rates rise when injuries occur to the metatarsals even though the workers’ toes were protected.
However, workers often do not like to wear metatarsals, just as they often resist safety toe footwear, mostly citing a lack of comfort and weight. But with new advances in metatarsal protection technologies, met guards can often provide a cushioned massage foam feeling on top of the foot that will harden when a strong impact takes place, offering workers comfortable protection. These technologies can save workers and their employees hundreds of thousands of dollars in hospital bills, out-of-work days or even more serious life-altering consequences. Met guards now come in almost every shape, size, and product category.
Second, there is a strong push toward an industry standardization on testing and metrics for slip-resistant footwear. The industry has long struggled with providing a clear method and measurement for workers and safety directors when it comes to slip resistance on a variety of surfaces. In current lab testing, squares of outsoles are cut and subjected to various surfaces while saturated in various chemicals, moistures and oils. New testing, under consideration from footwear industry safety committees, involves the whole boot on a machine, being subjected to similar real motions and foot strikes of a typical worker under real circumstances. Though the consideration process is still underway, it looks as though there is momentum for better standardization of this important safety component.
Third, workers are thinking more about their joints, knees, and back than ever before, probably in large part due to occupational and health consultants and programs in the workplace, including physical therapists and chiropractors providing workplace stretching programs, screenings and preventative care offerings. New technologies are coming out fast to address the hardship placed on joints from standing on concrete for 10 to 12 hours a day.
New non-flattening and shock-absorbing compounds are finding their way not only into footbeds but also into the actual midsoles and outsoles. This important trend showcases that protection is not merely from objects or environmental elements, but even from simple hard surfaces and its effects on the worker’s overall health.
Static Dissipative Technologies
Fourth, workers today are expressing more concerns about the challenges associated with working in environments where static buildup is a major concern. ESD shoes are made to conduct static electricity through the footbed linings, cement, outsole, and into the ground. This aids in regulating electrical charge buildup in a worker’s body. While it works well in practice, there can be problems with the performance of the footwear if a worker does not take care of his or her shoes before, during and after work. Just like any tool, if one does not take care of and maintain his or her ESD footwear, it will not do its job properly. With more and more workers being required to wear ESD footwear, it leads to greater numbers of workers who also do not always properly follow the needed protocols to keep the footwear working properly.
Proper care for ESD footwear includes the following on a weekly basis: One must first use a mild soap to scrub the outsole, leading to a proper removal of all dirt and debris from the bottom of the shoe. Second, the inside of the shoe can benefit from a thorough vacuuming of any debris. Third, the uppers of the shoe should be cleaned with a damp cloth. They need to be stored in a clean indoor area and not worn outside if at all possible.
Though ESD footwear is always considered a secondary source of protection that should be used in conjunction with other primary protection sources, some footwear-integrated ESD technologies go above and beyond in working double time to prevent static buildup.
This is an exciting time in the safety footwear industry in America with a lot of innovation, pain-solving and improvements in comfort, style and function. At the same time, many industries in the States continue to lag behind when it comes to addressing the need for workers to wear the appropriate safety footwear in harsh conditions. Industries are starting to be more proactive in encouraging and even regulating their workers to stay safe and protect themselves from awful consequences that are not worth the cost of bypassing safety
UNDERSTANDING AND PREVENTING WORKPLACE FOOT INJURIES
Foot injuries are among the most common worker injuries, including breaks, fractures and heel injuries. The human foot and ankle contain 26 bones, 33 joints and more than 100 muscles, tendons and ligaments. It’s no wonder that any injury to the foot can be particularly painful—and, unfortunately, slow to heal.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports at least 60,000 foot injuries are responsible for keeping people from work every year, and the average cost of one of those lost workdays is roughly $9,600.
Clearly, prevention of workplace foot injuries makes the most sense for employers and employees. Let’s discuss some of the most common foot injuries and the hazards that cause them.
With so many workplace hazards at foot-level, employees across all injuries are at risk. Some of the most common include:
- Broken foot
- Puncture wounds
- Amputation of toes or feet
- Foot sprain
- Cuts and lacerations
- Bunions and fallen arches
- Electrical shocks
There are many, many workplace hazards that cause foot injuries, and workers are put at an increased risk of injury if they are standing for long periods of time, carrying heavy objects, jumping off loading docks or navigating tripping hazards each day in the workplace. Here are some common hazards that employers should look to prevent.
Falling and rolling heavy objects. These objects can crush a worker’s foot and result in a broken bone, amputation or puncture wound.
Electrical currents. High voltage electrical currents can cause electrical shock or fatal electrical exposure in wet environments.
Extreme cold. Exposure to extreme cold can result in hypothermia, frostbite and amputation of feet or toes.
Slippery walking surfaces. Wet or slippery floors can cause a worker to twist, sprain or facture the foot.
Sharp objects and machinery. Broken glass or loose nails on the floor can puncture the bottom of the foot or cause cuts or lacerations.
Standing for long periods of time. Those who stand for an extended amount of time can be at risk for cumulative foot injuries like bunions, corns and fallen arches.
This article originally appeared in the April 2020 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.