Selecting Proper Safety Footwear

Working in a variety of conditions can require a specific outsole. Take a look at a number of outsole qualities to see what will work best for the job at hand.

WORK and safety footwear is developed for a specific end user, whether that person is an electrician or a drywaller. Choosing the proper safety and work boot can be as easy as breaking down what is most important to keep safe and comfortable on the job. Here are a few things to consider:

1. Protective footwear is mandatory in designated work conditions. Does your work require safety toe protection?

There are a number of safety toe options that protect:

Steel Toe
Steel toe was traditionally used as the ultimate protection from falling objects or puncture to the foot. Steel toe protection is still one of the most popular and trusted forms of certified footwear safety. Footwear companies also have created lighter protective footwear measures for those seeking protection that is lighter in weight, including a non-metallic toe and an alloy toe.

Alloy Toe
Alloy is much lighter than a steel toe and just as strong, if not stronger. Any reduction in the weight of the boot could lead to a reduction in foot fatigue, making the work site safer.

Non-Metallic Toe
Workers have started using non-metallic toe protection because it can feel lighter and more comfortable. Additionally, the non-metallic toe is not electrically conductive, and the resistance to the transmission of heat or cold can make a big difference on the job site.

2. Does the job require static dissipative footwear protection?

Static Dissipative
Safety footwear can be designed to reduce the build-up of excess static electricity by transferring excess static electricity from the body to the ground.

3. Working inside on oil surfaces or outdoors on wet and slippery surfaces can be extremely dangerous, and this can also break down the boot. Does the job require oil- and/or slip-resistant footwear?

Oil-Resistant
This type of footwear is specially designed to perform in work environments where oil is a factor. These outsoles will resist the swelling and deteriorating effects of various types of oils.

Slip-Resistant:
Work boots can be developed to grip to dry and wet surfaces. Slip-resistant footwear can be tested to ASTM standards to ensure it meets this safety need.

4. Working in a variety of conditions can require a specific outsole. Take a look at a number of outsole qualities to see what will work best for the job at hand.

Wedge and Low Lug Outsole
A wedge outsole has low lugs that are great for not trapping mud or debris in the outsole. This outsole is particularly good when working in these conditions or doing a job, such as a framing or drywalling, that frequently involves work outside and in, without tracking debris inside.

Right Angle Heel and Heavy Lug Outsole
Working with any machinery or shovels requires a right angle heel and aggressive lugs for traction and durability.

5. Does the job require long hours in warm climates and temperatures, whether outdoors or inside?

Breathability
Work boots can be extremely comfortable with new, breathable technologies. For warmer climates indoors and outside, breathable materials can wick away moisture and keep feet more dry and comfortable. Breathable materials such as Coolmax and DXTVent are performance technologies developed to create cooler footwear in warm conditions.

6. Be sure the work boot ensures comfort to reduce foot fatigue.
Some safety boots have extra EVA or cushioning to support for many hours on the job, and these models reduce foot fatigue.

Fit is vitally important to the performance any work boot. Speak with a trained footwear technician at a retail store that can make sure the length and width of the boot is right. Without the proper fit, feet will easily get fatigued and potentially create blisters.

Fit is best determined with a Brannick fitting device at any local work footwear store. This will be the best way to start any fitting session. Also, be sure you are wearing the same type of socks that you will wear when you work because that will also influence the final decision. (Beware: Your best bet is a pair of performance socks that will wick away moisture. Cotton tube socks are not sufficient and can create blisters.)

When you have decided on a boot or shoe that seems to fit right at the bench, it is time to stroll around the store. If one is available, go to an incline ramp and see how the footwear feels when going up and down the ramp. This simulates movement and activity while on the job.

Boot Care
Work boots need to be properly cared for to ensure they last many months on the job. Most work boots are made of leather. Depending on the conditions of the job and how much they are worn, they will require more frequent cleaning.

Working in cement, mud, or any condition that will dehydrate and suck moisture out of the leather will create cracks if proper care is not taken immediately. At a minimum, boots can be hosed off to remove any debris from the leather. The worst thing a boot can have is cracking leather that compromises the safety of the boot. The ideal care is to properly moisturize the leather with cleaning and leather boot care moisturizing products.

If the leather starts to feel dry, it is time to use the boot care products. This will ultimately increase the longevity of the boot. Someone who works more frequently in rugged and muddy conditions will need to moisturize his leather boots more often than someone who works indoors or away from harsh debris.

For those working in cement and chemically hazardous conditions, rubber boots can be required; they are quite easy to clean because they contain no seams. Rubber conditioner can be used to rejuvenate the boot and lengthen its life.

Some items that can be used are:
Cleaning Gel
The cleaning gel will extend the life of work boots and shoes and leaves no residue.

Rubber Conditioner
A rubber conditioner can rejuvenate the rubber, stop color fading, and prevent UV damage. An ideal conditioner is a non-glossy, non-slippery formula that is water-based and biodegradable.

Boot Dressing
Boot dressing keeps fine leather from getting scuffed and scratched. It is formulated to maintain the quality of the work boot's original surface. Boot dressing can be used on all leather boots and other leather items but is not suitable for nubuc or suede.

Taking the Best Care of Your Boots
1. Be observant. Notice that your boots are getting dry and make a point to clean and condition them.

2. Set up a regular routine. Setting up a routine once a month or so will help you remember to keep boots in good condition. A well-conditioned boot will breathe better. Good care makes the boots more comfortable.

3. Keep conditioners where you keep your boots. Remember that dry, cracked boots will compromise safety. The best way to get boots to last a lifetime is to care for them.

This article originally appeared in the October 2007 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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