Steel Toe and Much More
"While there are several common denominatiors, each of our product introductions meets a unique need of the consumer."
- By OH&S Staff
- Oct 02, 2009
Editor's note: Today's protective footwear is fashionable,
comfortable, and highly functional, with some lines offering
anti-fatigue qualities plus protection against water,
abrasion, slips, and oils. Still, the safety manager's
educational role remains crucial in selecting the right
boot or shoe for the hazard(s), Jim O'Connor, director
of marketing for Timberland PRO, said in the following
e-mail interview with the OH&S editor. Excerpts from
the exchange follow:
OH&S: At the mention of work shoes, steel toe immediately
comes to mind. Is steel toe the key protective
quality that safety managers and end users
seek in footwear today, or is some other quality
Jim O'Connor: Steel toe protection is important,
however, few things have such a dramatic impact on a
person's overall health and well-being as their feet, as
problems that begin here often spread to other areas,
including the back. The constant pressure of working
long hours on a hard, unforgiving surface can
contribute to a variety of problems — most notably,
fatigue. The body needs to work harder to compensate
for the lack of support, which makes the muscles
tired and the body more exhausted. The eff ects are
exacerbated when the worker has to exert force or
complete a repetitive motion over a long period of
time. These jobs — particularly those that require
extended hours on one's feet — demand anti-fatigue
protection. Anti-fatigue solutions are available for
various applications. Some styles are lightweight and
feature soles that are designed with fluid-channeling,
high surface contact for cement or epoxy flooring,
while others are more rugged with protective rubber
toe overlays, rubber soles, and puncture-resistant
plates under-foot for additional protection.
Slips and falls are also common causes of injury
in the workplace. According to data from OSHA,
slip-related accidents account for the majority of
general industry accidents and 15 percent of all accidental
deaths of workers on the job. Footwear choice
can help minimize this risk with anti-slip soles and
specific sole tread designs and compounds, which
determine the shoe's ability to maximize coefficient
of friction and expel fluids or contaminants. Microlug
patterns (tiny lugs) with multiple leading edges
can provide good slip resistance on smooth surfaces,
while a "toothy" lug pattern is best for rugged outdoor
To address this need, Timberland PRO is introducing
a new line in the fall called Industrial
Traction, a series of boots designed to enhance slip
performance with uniquely positioned lugs that maximize
surface contact and evacuate water, dirt, and oil
Ultimately, before making the investment in work
footwear, as an employer or an employee, workers
must examine the specific job and determine what
that worker needs to be safe, successful, and comfortable.
Some of your boots off er steel toe but
also much more: They're waterproof,
abrasion resistant, slip resistant, oil
resistant, and off er an anti-microbial
footbed and electrical hazard resistance.
How has protective footwear
evolved in materials used, protective
capabilities, durability, and comfort to
become the products we have today?
O'Connor: Since Timberland PRO
launched in 1999, our protective footwear
off erings have certainly evolved,
and these innovations are a result of our
product team constantly traveling to job
sites for immersion. They talk with safety
managers and consumers to find out what
they're getting or not getting from their
workboots and study their work environments.
As a result, while there several common
denominators, each of our product
introductions meets a unique need of
[the] consumer. One of the most popular
is . . . a platform that combines comfort
with lightweight protection, featuring an
alloy toe that provides the same level of
protection as steel, but with one-third the
weight. Since then, we've launched everything
from abrasion-resistant leathers, to
uniquely insulated cold weather boots,
to boots with metatarsal protection, to
boots made to withstand extreme heat.
Th roughout the development and
changes in the protective footwear industry,
two things remain consistent in our
design process: We make durable products
that off er the utmost comfort and
fit, and we maintain the aesthetics our
worker desires so workers can hold onto
their workboots for many years without
So we know great products are available.
Yet to choose the appropriate
ones, the safety manager or end user
still must accurately assess the hazards
to which the wearer is exposed, correct?
O'Connor: Yes, that is correct. Safety
managers educate their workers on the
hazards associated with the job and provide
proper training. It's also important
for employees to be well informed, taking
advantage of any training available from
their employer, union, or safety society.
OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health
Administration) law requires employers
to provide a workplace that is safe and
free from hazards; workers should familiarize
themselves with OSHA standards
in order to easily spot unsafe conditions.
When it comes to footwear, employers
and safety managers can be great resources
of information about what potential
hazards an employee might encounter.
Your feet are the tool you use, uninterrupted,
for the entire 8-10 hour workday,
so it's important to select the right work
boot for the job. Consider the external
environment in which you'll be working
and the specific tasks you'll be performing.
You want a style that is durable, comfortable,
and lightweight, but the specifics
can vary. Consider elements like an appropriate
traction pattern, a protective
toe cap, cold weather — or, conversely,
high-heat — protection, and a protective
toe overlay of rubber or another
abrasion-resistant material. Making the
right choice will not only keep you safe
and comfortable, but you can extend the
life of your work boot.
Hazards and exposures vary in some
applications, such as food processing,
construction, or law enforcement.
What's the solution for foot protection
in those circumstances?
O'Connor: For food processing, it's important
to consider foot protection that
off ers slip resistance, given that the surfaces
food processing workers work on
are smooth and can be wet or dry. Also,
given that these workers are on their feet
the majority of the day, it's important to
consider attributes such as anti-fatigue.
For those in law enforcement, it's important
to consider foot protection with
anti-fatigue attributes designed to stand
up to a variety of conditions (rain, humidity,
snow, etc.), as these workers often
spend long hours on foot and work
in challenging conditions. The footwear
should also be lightweight and tactile so
the user can move quickly and not be
weighed down with bulky footwear.
What should tell an end user that his/
her footwear needs to be replaced? Do
workers often wear their footwear beyond
its useful life?
O'Connor: Sometimes it's driven by a
voucher, so the employer essentially decides.
However, workers should check for
abrasion on the upper, wear through the
sole, and, most importantly, how comfortable
the boot is, as insoles should be
replaced when possible; if your knees and
back are sore, this is the first sign that you
need new boots.
What about custom footwear -- do you
and other footwear companies provide
it? What kind of requests for custom
boots or shoes do you receive?
O'Connor: Not really. There are aft ermarket
products available, such as toe
bumpers, but the best way to address
these types of needs is with rubber overlays
and abrasion-resistant materials.
What other issues/problems come up
these days when safety managers or end
users communicate with your company?
O'Connor: Timberland PRO meets with
safety managers and end users on an ongoing
basis (on the job site, at national
and regional safety shows, and other
venues) to understand what issues we
can solve through design, aesthetics, and
materials to improve the overall performance
of our boots. These conversations
and environmental observations help to
dictate the design and development process.
Timberland PRO focuses on product
quality and maintaining relationships
with safety managers and consumers to
develop products that are truly problemsolving.
Bullard has the Turtle Club for workers
who've escaped serious injury because
they were wearing a hard hat. Footwear
is essential protection, too, and wearing
appropriate shoes or boots will prevent
serious injuries. Can you describe some
of the stories you've heard from customers
about injuries they avoided because
of your products?
O'Connor: Customers have told us about
heavy equipment such as tractors falling
on their feet and have praised the fact
that the safety toes in our boots did not
fail, therefore, preventing serious injuries.
(We do not have a club of any sort.)
This article originally appeared in the October 2009 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.