Step into Safety Right

Here's advice managers should follow (and not follow) when it comes to deciding on and purchasing appropriate footwear for their workforce.

According to the National Safety Council (NSC), approximately 25,000 people a day are victims of slip-and-fall accidents. The expense of these injuries is running at $3.5 million per hour, every hour of the day, every day of the year. Moreover, compensation and medical costs associated with employee slip-and-fall accidents total approximately $70 billion annually.

Slip-resistant footwear can help avoid these costly accidents. While they range in size, price, color, and style, it is important to remember that one size does not fit all.

In an effort to validate common questions and concerns about them, safety professionals from the hospitality, food service, supermarket, and industrial sectors weigh in here on how safety shoes "fit" in their particular workplaces.

The hotel business is a multifaceted one. At The Cosmopolitan™ of Las Vegas, staff must cover a large distance by foot every day. Whether they are pushing heavy equipment or working poolside, roughly 75 percent of them wear slip-resistant shoes.

Randy Conner, safety manager at The Cosmopolitan, explained that while employees are presented with slip-resistant shoe options, they must select ones that meet their uniform requirement. If a certain shoe is required of an employee, The Cosmopolitan will typically purchase and fit the employee as part of his or her uniform.

While you can get slip-resistant shoes from a variety of companies, it's the service and comfort level that matter most to Conner. "They [staff] are often surprised by how comfortable the non-skid shoes are, to the point where some have purchased them as personal dress shoes –- even though they aren't going to be used on the job –- just because they like the style and comfort," he said.

When it comes to purchasing safety shoes for the hospitality industry, durability is key. Conner recalled a time when a chef told him grease eats away at a slip-resistant shoe's outsole. While it was never proven, it unlikely the chef was wearing a reputable brand of slip-resistant shoes because some manufacturers' outsole material is made from a closed cell material that cannot be penetrated by grease. However, according to J. William Louda, Ph.D., senior scientist with the department of chemistry and biochemistry at Florida Atlantic University, if the chef's outsole was made of neoprene or a related rubber, then it is possible grease could soften the soles to a point where they would abrade.

Food Service
A big concern for those who work in the food service industry is when to replace their shoes. Often, they do not even realize the shoes must be replaced, especially when they're on their feet eight hours every day. "People think that they won't slip and fall and can buy shoes anywhere," said Laura Metrick, senior manager Asset Protection East for Denny's Corp. "Just because shoes say they are 'slip resistant' doesn't mean that they always are."

To help in deciding when it's time to purchase new shoes, Metrick offered these pointers:

1. Examine the bottom of your shoe. If it looks slick or it feels as though you have no support, then you are not preventing a slip and fall. The six-month mark is generally a good time to purchase a new pair of slip-resistant shoes.

2. Think about the work site. Consider where they will be worn. Every location is different.

3. When you're protecting assets, the employee should be your biggest one. Make it a joint effort to keep employees safe at your work site. "While my specific role is in asset protection, we all have the moral responsibility to make sure that our employees are safe," she said.

Slip-resistant shoes worn in a restaurant environment must be stable on oil and water. Metrick cautioned that while servers may covet nice-looking shoes to match their uniforms, the bottom line is safety. "How your shoes look is not the main goal. The main goal is that they're comfortable and offer protection against slips and falls."

In May 2012, Marsh Supermarkets, headquartered in Indianapolis, made it mandatory that all employees wear slip-resistant shoes. It was voluntary up to that point.

"We made slip-resistant shoes part of our dress code policy. Since it wasn't one when our current employees were hired, we purchased all 2,300 employees their first pair of shoes," said Corporate Safety Manager Steve Garland, who has worked for the company for 41 years. To make it easier for employees (especially new hires) to get shoes, Marsh elected to offer a payroll deduction option over three pay periods or $10 out of one paycheck per week for three weeks.

One employee shared with Garland that she had to have special shoes because of her back and that the "slip-resistant type" would not work. Several weeks later, he learned from her that she ordered a pair of slip-resistant shoes, and they made her feel great. "She ended up purchasing an athletic style with the air cushion in the heel," he said. "What's nice about slip-resistant shoes is that you have a range of prices, so if you're struggling to make ends meet you can still get a nice pair of shoes for under $30."

When it comes to deciding the right shoe for a workforce, Garland recommended determining the work site conditions and considering a shoe program. "If somebody falls it creates a meniscus tear in the knee, and that type of injury runs about $78,000 or so,: he said. "For four to eight weeks, not only do you lose the employee, but you also end up paying a large worker's comp fee." "If you prevent just one slip-and-fall injury," he continued, "that will pretty much pay for the shoe program itself."

ABM, one of the largest facility management services providers in the United States, is unlike a normal manufacturing environment: The operations are not typically conducted at company-owned and controlled sites. Its work environments' lighting and flooring surfaces may not be consistent from one work site to the next, for example.

"We have approximately 100,000 employees providing integrated building facility services for our clients in a variety of settings, so for us to apply a universal shoe type to protect our employees is not appropriate," said Mike Estabrook, MS, CSP, corporate director of safety at ABM. "We provide world-class service for our clients, and we back this up by conducting pre-job assessments to help identify hazards that may threaten our employees. We then plan, coordinate, and implement site-specific plans to reduce the potential for employee work-related injuries. This includes coordinating appropriate foot protection."

He explained that most of ABM's operations are based at clients' sites with frequently changing conditions. "While our scope of work may originally be centered on standard cleaning and maintenance activities, which require a more basic slip-resistant shoe, we may have requests for expanded services, such as pressure washing. In these cases, our foot protection needs may change to include chemical resistance, waterproof features, and metatarsal protection. Again, this will be determined by our hazard assessments and may require working more closely with our safety footwear provider," he said.

At ABM, it's as much about having the right shoe vendor as it is about the right model. Once the shoe's safety features, fit, comfort, and quality are confirmed, the differentiating factor becomes the relationship, Estabrook said.

Slips, trips, and falls are one of the key causes of employee work-related injury at ABM. Where a company can really make a difference is by first analyzing its historical worker's compensation loss information, OSHA records, and incident investigation records to determine contributing factors associated with slip/trip/fall incidents, Estabrook noted.

For example: Has a hazard analysis been conducted and the correct safety shoe been provided and worn? Do the falls have anything to do with the type of shoe provided? Are the surfaces laden with deviations? Are the tasks involved in the job poorly designed? Are there areas where limited travel paths may impede worker travel? Is there a function of the environment the footwear can actually address?

"Look at the drivers of slip/trip/fall incidents carefully and objectively," he said. "Typically, you will identify multiple contributing factors and can then plan accordingly. However, appropriate safety footwear is often going to be part of the solution."

The Anatomy of a Safety Shoe
According to Tony Gavin, podiatrist and clinical director of Davenport House Clinic in the United Kingdom, the fit of your safety shoe is paramount. Footwear that does not fit properly can cause lifelong foot problems. Here’s what he advises to look for when purchasing your next pair:

  • Upper – Made from leather or a breathable man-made fabric.
  • Lining – Breathable material to keep feet fresh.
  • Toe area – Foot-shaped with room to wiggle your toes; if the shoes have a toecap, ensure they are padded so you cannot feel the toecap.
  • Insole – Removable preferred to allow insertion of padding or orthotic insoles.
  • Heel – No higher than 1.5 inches, but if you are on your feet for long stretches no higher than 1 inch.
  • Sole – Strong and flexible, made from rubber or PVC to prevent slippage.
  • Fastenings – Laces, buckles, or Velcro® to help secure the foot.

The Sole Truth
There are numerous misconceptions regarding safety footwear. Independent safety/security consultant William J. Cocco, CPO, ICPS, shares common misconceptions, followed by the truth.

  • Uncomfortable/stiff. Many believe such footwear is cramped, when in reality the leather components are pliable/flexible. Like any shoe, one should try them on and walk around in them to ensure comfort and a proper fit.
  • Heavy/bulky. You will find this type of footwear is lightweight, much like everyday shoes.
  • Foot temp affected. Slip-resistant shoes are designed to breathe, allowing coolness in warmer months and warmth in cooler months to enhance everyday foot comfort.
  • They lack style. Today's safety footwear comes in many styles and designs: dress type, wing tips, loafers, etc.
  • Expensive. Many believe such footwear is overly expensive. They come in all price levels, just like everyday street shoes.

The bottom line: The cost of any safety footwear far outweighs the cost of a slip/trip/fall insurance claim.

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

About the Author

Brittany L. Agro is the Copywriter at Shoes For Crews, a leading global slip-resistant footwear company headquartered in West Palm Beach, Fla. She has her M.S. degree in journalism from Medill at Northwestern University. She can be reached at [email protected].

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