Three Things That Hurt Compliance When it Comes to Protective Footwear

Compliance can be tough when it comes to footwear—especially when employee motivation and buy-in is low.

Foot protection is critical when it comes to safety on a job site. Without proper fitting, comfortable safety footwear that features necessary safety elements, workers can find themselves at risk for a number of injuries including slip, trip and fall accidents, roll-over or crushing injuries, and even chronic pain stemming from extended wear of a work shoe or boot that does not adequately support the foot.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Workplace Injuries and Illnesses data from 2019, slips, trips and falls was one of the most common causes of workplace injuries with nearly 27 incidents per 10,000 full-time workers. Furthermore, slips, trips and falls amounted to nearly 800 deaths in fiscal year 2019.

The risks and injuries associated with poor protection of employees’ feet is generally understood, so why is it so hard to ensure that workers stay compliant with safety footwear programs? Turns out there are quite a few reasons why workers might stray away from recommended footwear options.

Lack of Style Choice

One of the reasons why employees may find it hard to comply with safety footwear programs is because they are unable to find a work boot or shoe that has the recommended safety features and satisfies the employee’s style requirements. It is often that an employee is told their footwear must include specific safety features to satisfy OSHA compliance, or to protect against the hazards found in an on-site hazard analysis. However, when the employee goes to find the perfect shoe—there just are not enough properly fitting, comfortable footwear options that they can choose from. While some may not be concerned with the look of their footwear, there are some employees who may not need to wear protective footwear the entirety of the workday. For instance, plant managers, or safety directors, who may only enter a facility floor, where protective footwear is required, a few times a day. Rather than opt for bringing two pairs of shoes to work each day, these employees can look for safety footwear options that appear to be professional shoes that also have protective elements built in. These options make it easier for employees to dash from an office setting to a plant floor without wasting time to change shoes.

For women, finding protective footwear in a comfortable fit is a large issue. It is often hard for women to find footwear options that are uniquely qualified to protect against the hazards present in their workplace as the options are limited. Thankfully, protective footwear companies are looking to increase their options for women so that they are able to choose a shoe that allows them to withstand everyday fatigue factors as well as hazards associated with their position.

Lack of Comfort

When it comes to employees choosing and wearing a shoe, it all comes down to comfort. It doesn’t matter if the shoe is decked out with every safety feature that the employee needs—they just won’t wear it if it is not comfortable. A large complaint from workers when it comes to their shoes is that they tend to run on the heavier side. This additional weight can cause the wearer short-term discomfort and long-term health issues. To remedy this problem, shoe manufactures have created safety footwear that includes heavy-duty safety features but without the unnecessary weight. Another recommendation to improve comfort when it comes to safety footwear is to make sure that the wearer is choosing the right size shoe. A properly fitted safety shoe or work boot should leave enough room for the toes but not enough room that you feel like your foot is sliding around in the shoe. A correctly fitting pair of shoes should also fit comfortably around the heel without any irritating rubbing and the sides of the shoe should not put pressure on your feet at any time.

Not Enough Reimbursement or Stipend Money

The perfect shoe for each of your employees is out there, but they do need to purchase it first. Organizations and companies all have different methods of purchasing safety footwear. Sometimes it is reimbursement for safety shoes already bought, other times employees are given a stipend to purchase the shoes with. Employers and safety directors need to be thoughtful when it comes to financing the right shoe for the hazards on your work site. If the hazards to workers’ feet are abundant, then you need to be sure employees are given enough money to cover the added expenses of premium features that will help to reduce the risk of injury. The benefit of allowing employees to spend more when it comes to safety footwear is the likelihood that the shoe will last much longer and will offer the worker greater comfort and protection. Stay aware of the state of your workers’ shoes. Perhaps they do need to purchase safety shoes more frequently than previously thought. Depending on the type of work, safety shoes may degrade over time. Even if the worker is taking care of their work shoes or boots, there are still chemicals or materials that can wear down the shoe over time.

It All Boils Down to Safety Culture

Employees must be motivated to want to find the right shoe for them. They must feel like they understand the hazards present in their workplace, what features will help to protect their feet and how to find the correct size that offers comfort and durability. Make sure that employees feel like they are part of the process. If the feedback, suggestions and opinions of the workers who will be wearing the safety shoes is taken into consideration, the likelihood of buy-in will be much higher. Even after the safety shoe program has been put into place, allow employees to feel like they are able to provide information to and update their directors about the state of their work shoe over time. This will help to understand how often shoes should be bought and when to begin looking at potential changes in your program. In the end, it boils down to ensuring workers put their safety first on the worksite. When employees feel heard and understood when it comes to their comfort and needs, compliance issues will be a thing of the past.

This article originally appeared in the April 1, 2021 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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