Guidelines for a Quality Program
Keeping these considerations in mind will place your occupational foot protection program on sound footing.
That’s a clever use of duct tape, I thought, but it’s
not reasonable for work boots. The employee
wore a pair of dry, rotted-leather safety shoes
that were being held together with duct tape,
and he was trying to make it to payday. I’ve seen other
employees who have purchased used safety shoes that
had been worn down, causing uneven foot surfaces or
treads that could potentially cause a fall. I’ve also seen the
super-discount safety shoes, which are hard to walk in
and extremely heavy.
We have all stretched the use of a pair of workboots
or shoes that should have been tossed because of being
worn down, fitting poorly, or becoming contaminated.
How, then, do we send the message to employees
that wearing good-quality, fitted footwear is in their
Our employees work hard, and most of them are
standing a great deal of their work shift. Do your employees
use appropriate shoes for the hazards at work?
Does your shoe/foot protection policy cover everything
it should? Cast a critical eye on your injury history at your
workplace. If you spot a trend in foot injuries or falls, it
may be an indicator that more is needed (from you) for
foot protection at your site.
From food service and health care to heavy construction,
employees need to wear quality, correctly fitted
shoes. Don’t focus solely on safety toes; stay aware of
the need for slip resistance and wear; ensure that you educate
your supervisors on inspecting employees’
footwear and what is needed in the workplace. Face the
facts: Your employees’ foot protection is a direct extension
of your safety program.
Occupational foot protection comes in many
forms, from shoes to shoe covers, boots, shoe caps,
safety toes, metatarsal protection, and more. Some
items to consider for managing your program and your
PPE wisely include these:
Policy. Is your corporate foot protection policy in
writing and available to employees? Depending on the
work being done, is your shoe policy reasonable? When
was the last time it was reviewed and updated? For high-hazard
situations, most employees fully understand and
accept shoe guidelines. The murky hazard area (such as
a graphics shop where sharp blades may be dropped)
often require more education and inspection.
Employees want to relax in the summer months, and
many will try to wear open shoes or even flip-flops to the
office. What actions do your supervisors take? One important
phrase to have in the policy is: "Appropriate shoes
will be worn at all times.” Other office environments do
not allow open-toed shoes or high heels, to help prevent
falls. This becomes more important if employees rotate
to different jobs or locations in a plant where the hazards
Purchasing guidelines. Who pays? How much, and
how often? When was the last time the amount was increased?
Are your purchasing guidelines clear and available
to all employees? What about those whose primary
language is not English?
One of the largest problems with purchasing guidelines
is the lack of awareness for employees. Employees
think that if a company purchases one pair of safety
shoes a year, that is all they need and will buy. Unfortunately,
this is not the case. Daily use of any type of
foot protection causes the sole and support to wear
down. Heavier employees or those with other health issues,
such as hip problems, may cause uneven wear
areas on shoe beds, too.
Employee and supervisor education. One of the most
overlooked areas of occupational foot protection is simple
education. Instruct your employees about the problems
of sharing shoes (this happens more often than you
think!) and how to care for shoes (and feet) properly.
Preach the value of good-quality socks! Advise employees
of the need to allow shoes (leather work boots, for example)
to completely dry out between wearings.
Make sure they understand what is acceptable and
those situations that are not acceptable (sandals, severely
damaged shoes, inappropriate shoes, etc.) Make sure
your supervisors are consistent in inspections!
Sizing and selection. Give employees specific instructions
on what is needed for a work area or job, such
as slip-resistant soles, water resistance, ankle support, etc.,
depending on your task analysis of the job. Pick a good selection of shoes that are appropriate in different price
ranges. Some employees want the very best in comfort
and material. Others simply want cheap.
Slip resistance. When employees work with grease
and oil—from the shop floor to the local fast-food
kitchen—they need quality slip resistance with all
footwear. Water resistance becomes important, too.
Storage. Many companies saw storage and decontamination
problems after Hurricane Katrina. Work
shoes/boots were not properly cleaned and were stored
wet or in places with high humidity, and mold/fungus
became an issue. Other employees toss work shoes or
boots in their locker or truck bed at the end of a shift,
thinking nothing of them until the next wearing. Shoes
can warp if exposed to something heavy on top of them,
and that can lead to a fall.
Cleaning and decontamination. Depending on what
your employees work with, cleaning and decontamination
are important issues. If your maintenance staffers are
working in ankle-deep raw sewage, then report to a clean
area for other repairs, you have a contamination problem.
Added protection may be needed for these employees,
ranging from disposable shoe covers to replacement
boots. Cleaning and decontaminating need to be a daily
routine for employees. They also need to learn to inspect
Replacement. Chances are, unless the damage is
work related, employees have to replace their own
shoes if more than one pair a year is needed. Explain
why this is needed and what happens if they do not.
Inspections. It sounds silly, but if your supervisors
will simply look at employees’ shoes from time to time,
many issues will be corrected before the injury. One trend
recently among younger workers was to wear open work
boots with loose shoelaces. Or their shoes were too big.
Other workers will wear shoes past their useful life expectancy,
even when they are damaged or contaminated.
Why This Protection Matters
Most employees never think about their occupational
foot protection until there is a problem or an injury.
Many of us know there is no greater misery than working
all day in shoes that do not fit correctly. Make sure
new employees understand how to break in safety shoes
and how their walking will be different until they are used
to the new shoes. Not all foot protection is heavy, but it
may fit differently than the new employee’s street shoes.
What often goes unnoticed is the positive difference
in overall workplace safety when your employees wear
the correct type(s) and correctly sized shoes. If you can
not answer the needs, call in a professional source or a
drive-by vendor. Help is available for selection of foot
protection items and unique questions or problems. As
the safety professional of the company, be ready for questions
and be glad they are calling!
This article originally appeared in the July 2008 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.