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Overall workplace organization and work practices are often at fault when workers sustain foot injuries.

CRUSHING, punctures, lacerations, sprains, and even aches and pains are common problems workers have with their feet. Footwear that doesn't match their hazard exposures are a leading reason for these, but overall workplace organization and work practices are often at fault.

Crushing injuries can occur when heavy objects fall or move suddenly, though sometimes they happen when an employee's foot becomes trapped in a crack or crevice. Moving equipment and vehicles are another typical cause of crush injuries to workers' feet.

Puncture foot injuries and lacerations occur because sharp objects land on a workers' footwear or because he steps on a nail, metal shards, broken glass, or something else that's sharp.

Sprains, aches, and pains can result from missteps--perhaps the worker is carrying large items and becomes unbalanced, or he can't see a hole or some object that's in his path, so he stumbles and falls. Aches may result from standing for long periods while working, which is typical in retail, health care, and some other occupations.

Appropriate footwear and attentive housekeeping are the solutions for many of these problems. Job rotation and frequent rest breaks can help workers who otherwise would stand for hours. While these are important, preventing foot injuries starts with a comprehensive hazard assessment and the follow-up actions stemming from it. PPE may be part of the solution, but it is rarely the only solution--and the proper time to investigate it is after hazard elimination and administrative controls have been explored.

Relevant Standards
OSHA's general industry standard for occupational foot protection, 1910.136, tells these employers to "ensure that each affected employee uses protective footwear when working in areas where there is a danger of foot injuries due to falling or rolling objects, or objects piercing the sole, and where such employee's feet are exposed to electrical hazards."

The key standards applying to workplace protective footwear today are ASTM International's F2412-05, Standard Test Methods for Foot Protection, and F2413-05, Standard Specification for Performance Requirements for Foot Protection. Both are under the jurisdiction of Committee F13.30 on Footwear within Committee F13 on Pedestrian/Walkway Safety and Footwear.

F2412-05 sets test methods that manufacturers use to measure the resistance of footwear to various hazards, and the protective qualities it addresses include: impact resistance, compression resistance, metatarsal impact resistance, electrical conductivity resistance, electric shock resistance, static dissipative performance, puncture resistance of outsoles, chain saw cut resistance, and dielectric insulation.

Of more use to safety managers and employers is F2413-05, which specifies minimal requirements for the design, performance, testing, and classification of protective footwear.

Employee Involvement
When formulating your protective footwear policy, consider sharing the checklist that accompanies this article with employees who are exposed to hazards and are required to wear protective footwear. Involve some of them on your safety committees and include them when you walk around and conduct your hazard assessment. Ask about past incidents and near misses they've seen. (As a related tip, you should have in place a near-miss reporting system because these incidents are red flags indicating flaws in your operation. If you don't have one, start one.)

At a minimum, obtain the workers' input when your company decides to subsidize employee footwear purchases or to pay the full cost of protective footwear for employees. Asking them to sample available products for a trial period is always a good idea. They understand the nature of the work done at your facility better than anyone else.

Place responsibility on the employees to alert their supervisors when there is a problem. Enforce and discipline effectively and evenhandedly. Also, place responsibility on the supervisors to ask questions and document incident and no-compliance when they notice them.

This article appeared in the December 2006 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

Hazard Assessment Checklist

Some work activities are more hazardous than others. This list can help you identify activities that might create head and foot hazards for your employees. Read through the list, putting a check next to any item that describes an activity done at your workplace.


Work activities:

? Building maintenance

? Confined space operations

? Construction

? Electrical wiring

? Use of catwalks

? Use of conveyor belts

? Use of crane loads

? Utility work

? Other: ______

Work-related exposure to:

? Beams

? Exposed electrical wiring or components

? Falling objects

? Machine parts

? Pipes

? Other: ______


Work activities:

? Building maintenance

? Construction

? Demolition

? Food processing

? Foundry work

? Logging

? Plumbing

? Trenching

? Use of highly flammable materials

? Welding

? Other: ______

Work-related exposure to:

? Explosive atmospheres

? Explosives

? Exposed electrical wiring or components

? Heavy equipment

? Slippery surfaces

? Tools

? Other: ______

Your name: ________________________

Name of your workplace: __________________

Workplace address: _________________

Date of hazard assessment for PPE: ______


This article originally appeared in the December 2006 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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