Terms of the footwear program need to be clearly stated.

Gaining Traction on Program Success

The job safety analysis (JSA) performed for each particular job function will best determine what is needed in a safety shoe -- or if a safety shoe is needed at all.

While the songs "Slip Slidin' Away" and "Free Falling" might put a smile on a music lover's face, these words presented to a safety professional regarding an accident investigation may point out basic flaws in what was once thought to be a solid safety program. A strong foot protection program can be the foundation for accident reduction and can minimize the heartburn caused by slips and falls, crush injuries, lost work time, and hours upon hours of paperwork.

Consider your injury costs for the past five years as you develop your program, and include both “shop” and "office" environments. Sadly, often the non-production workforce has more foot and fall injuries from wearing the wrong footwear for the job. And for those companies who do not have a footwear policy ... you leave the door wide open for employees to wear just about anything from flip-flops or ultra-high heels to untied oversized boots, which may be an accident in the making for your workforce. Watch your employees coming in at the start of a shift to get a feel for what is needed. You may be surprised or horrified at the footwear your employees wear.

While everyone knows a good pair of shoes can be worth their weight in gold, getting employees to wear the proper footwear for their work environment can be a constant battle and takes a good deal of persuasion and salesmanship. In order to get employee buy-in, test-drive a variety of products and ask for feedback from respected employees before forcing a product down the workers’ throats. You may want to offer a variety of options within a shoe category so the workers still feel like individuals instead of an inmate population wearing their state-issued "bobos."

Once it has been selected, know the benefits and limitations of the product the company has picked for the employees to wear. Be ready to defend and praise the product and reassure the employees that the organization is looking out for their best interest with regards to safety. And you as safety do wear the same product, right?

Things to consider in a safety shoe:

  • Hazard reduction -– Does the shoe reduce risk in the work environment in which it will be worn?
  • Fit -– Is it comfortable or does the employee's foot slide inside the shoe? Rugged safety shoes typically don't conform to your foot like regular shoes, so how they feel when you first try them on is likely how they will feel in the future.
  • Materials –- Will the shoe hold up to the work environment? Can your foot breathe?
  • Traction and puncture resistance -– Is the sole good for ice, slick tile floors, puncture resistant for the work site, etc.?
  • Laces -– Does the shoe present its own hazards?
  • Affordability –- Is the shoe a good value for both the company and the employee?
  • Waterproof –- Will the shoe keep your foot dry? Will mud stain it?
  • Sanitation -- Will the shoe hold up to regular cleaning in unique environments?

Safety footwear is no longer a "one and done" market. Online vendors, local merchants, and mobile shoe fit trucks abound to provide the correct fit for your employee. Check around and discuss the needs and budget of the company with the vendors before deciding.

Enforcement Tips
The job safety analysis (JSA) performed for each particular job function will best determine what is needed in a safety shoe -- or if a safety shoe is needed at all. Different work environments present different PPE challenges, but a trained and aware safety professional will be able to identify these needs while performing a JSA. This will also help employees know what to select in style and materials from the shoes available.

Individual employees will regularly challenge a foot protection policy unless reminded of the rules and these challenges are immediately addressed. Some examples:

  • The fashionistas think it is more important to look good than to act safely, with their high heels or dress loafers in an environment intended for rugged wear or steel toes.
  • The apathetic employee wants to see how far he/she can push the envelope, so they decide on their own terms that athletic shoes should suffice.
  • The lab employee finds sandals appropriate during the summer months, even though the policy clearly calls for closed-toe shoes in the laboratory.

Enforcement of company foot protection policies needs to be fair, consistent, and ongoing. If one of these three qualities is missing from the policy enforcement, your hands will be full of complaints from unhappy workers who feel as if they are being treated unfairly or singled out.

Terms of the footwear program need to be clearly stated. Every employee loves a handout, but advantageous employees will attack the gray areas, so have clearly defined, black-and-white parameters. For example:

  • Will footwear be provided by the employee or the employer?
  • Is there a reimbursement policy for safety footwear?
  • Which shoe category must an employee choose from (steel toe, hiker, nonconductive, slip resistant, etc.)?
  • Up to what price will the employer reimburse the employee?
  • How often can new shoes be purchased with company subsidy or reimbursement?
  • Are replacements available if the footwear is damaged on the job?

In addition to appropriate footwear, engineering controls can help limit accidents related to slips and falls. Spray-on grip enhancers can help with slick shoe soles, floor treatments can increase the coefficient of friction on your floors, floor mats (without wrinkles and bent-up corners) can provide added traction, and railings can provide stability and balance. Signs should warn of wet floors and uneven surfaces, while paint or reflective tape should alert pedestrians to trip hazards.

Positive Management Statement
Here's your upper management's chance to make a lasting positive impression! Include leadership intent and guidance on the footwear policy, how important the safety program is, and the value each employee provides to the company by working safely. After all, your employees are one of the most valuable assets for the company. Clearly defined policies have always been an essential element of a safety program, but with slips, trips, and falls rearing their ugly heads, a strong foot protection policy is a great place to start when looking to bolster your safety program or reduce injury rates. Keep your message positive and consistently on target, and you will see an improvement in safety awareness on your site. It takes time but is well worth every effort.

This article originally appeared in the July 2012 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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