The Perfect Fit: What to Look for in a Footwear Provider

Here are a few things to look for in a safety footwear provider.

Employee safety is of the utmost importance on any jobsite, as it affects workers’ quality of life and job satisfaction as well as the bottom line. In fact, according to the National Safety Council, direct and indirect costs of work-related injuries and illnesses in the U.S. cost businesses over $160 billion each year.1

Slips, trips, falls and other foot-related injuries are among the most common in the workplace and can have a big impact on worker productivity. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median number of days away from work stemming from foot injuries in 2018 was eight.2

Fortunately, employers don’t have to figure it all out on their own. By selecting the right partners for safety footwear, employers can ensure they are doing everything possible to create a safe, well-functioning, productive work environment. Here are a few things to look for in a safety footwear provider:

Total Foot Protection
A quality provider will offer a comprehensive and customizable assortment of footwear to keep workers safe and productive. This means offering products that protect against a wide array of potential hazards including falling objects, electrical hazards, sharp objects and more. Everything from safety toe options to outsoles designed to handle a variety of conditions should be considered. Partnering with a provider that has a broad catalog of products and services will help cut down on the time, money and energy spent searching for additional options.

Important safety footwear technologies to look for include: safety toe options, insulation, waterproofing, lightweight, cooling, slip protection, electrical hazard protraction, puncture resistance, static dissipation, ankle protection and more.

In addition to protection against common workplace hazards such as the aforementioned dangers, it’s important to find a partner that will ensure employees receive gear that fits correctly. Proper fit is a key aspect of safety apparel, particularly for footwear, because it affects the performance of built-in safety features. Not only will wearing poorly fitting footwear be less comfortable for employees, but they are also at a higher risk of injury. Wearing the proper socks, considering boot width, properly done lacing, heel and toe comfort and more are all aspects of finding the proper fit, and a partner that can help employees navigate this process will improve the effectiveness of the safety footwear.

Protection doesn’t have to mean uncomfortable and ugly. In relation to fit, comfort and style should also be considered. People have grown accustomed to wearing stylish, featherweight sneakers in their free time and are starting to expect the same of their work apparel. Look for a manufacturer that stays at the forefront of materials science to meet the demand for more modern and comfortable footwear.

Knowledge of Safety Standards
Safety standards generally change every three to five years and provide a set of minimum requirements that safety footwear must pass during testing. These safety standards vary by country, but all are intended to protect workers on the job. Although all global safety footwear standards include key elements of protection, the testing methods, performance requirements and the certification processes may have significant differences.

The ASTM Safety Footwear Standard, developed by ASTM International, is the most widely recognized standard in the U.S. and was updated in 2018 (ASTM F2413-18). ASTM standards specify performance requirements for protective toe-cap footwear, standard test methods for foot protection, and performance requirements for soft-toe protective footwear. The ASTM F2413-18 standard contains basic requirements to assess footwear, which include:

  • Impact (I) resistance for the toe area
  • Compression (C) resistance for the toe area
  • Metatarsal (Mt) protection for the metatarsal bones at the top of the foot
  • Conductive (Cd) properties to reduce static electricity buildup and lower the possibility of ignition of explosives, volatile chemicals or fine particulates in the air
  • Electric hazard (EH) protection when accidentally stepping on live electric wires
  • Static dissipative (SD 10, 35 or 100) properties, allowing for three levels of protection to reduce hazards that result from a buildup of static charge where there is risk of accidental contact with live electrical circuits
  • Puncture resistance (PR) to protect the bottom of the foot from sharp, penetrating objects Requirements for soft-toe protective footwear are found in the ASTM F2892-18 Standard Specification for Performance

Requirements for Soft-Toe Protective Footwear (Non-Safety / Non-Protective Toe). Protections covered by ASTM F2892-18 include conductive properties, electric hazard protection, static dissipative properties and puncture resistance.

A good partner should have a deep knowledge of these standards and consistently update their offerings with the latest up-to-code, lab-tested and field-proven materials. They should also use high-quality leathers, fabrics and components sourced from trusted brands, which are also subjected to rigorous internal and independent third-party testing to further ensure all safety standards are met and/or exceeded.

Industry Expertise
It’s important for a footwear provider to understand the unique work environments a company and its workers deal with. Knowing whether or not a specific boot will provide adequate, long-term protection requires a thorough understanding of what the job actually involves, including the relevant surfaces, potential contaminants and physical requirements. An optimal provider will have experience developing purpose-built safety solutions for a variety of industries and use that expertise to ensure your employees are properly protected.

Distribution Footprint
Accessibility is another attribute to look for in a footwear partner. If your workers can’t purchase footwear easily, it will likely cause them to purchase the wrong type of footwear or wear worn-out boots that don’t offer the right level of protection.

Whether it’s conveniently located retail stores or mobile shoe trucks, go with a provider that can properly fit and administer solutions in an efficient manner. It is ideal to meet with your provider through physical locations or in person to provide workers with properly fitting footwear so they are comfortable and safe on the job, or to troubleshoot any issues.

Full-Service Partnership
A safety provider should have a solutions-first, product-second mindset. A good partner will seek to form a close, strategic relationship with all stakeholders in order to determine the biggest safety risks posed to workers and provide ongoing solutions and education to mitigate those risks.

Look for partners that provide modern services, including virtual platforms that enable you to easily and quickly access product and order information. This will help reduce administration time, mitigate risks by assuring the right products are selected for the job and eliminate costly waste and inaccuracies. The best safety providers will be a true one-stop shop and simplify the entire footwear procurement process to allow safety managers to stay focused on key business activities and workers’ needs while remaining confident their workers are safe on the job.

Finally, to further simplify your processes and eliminate costs, consider seeking a footwear provider that also manufactures other personal protection equipment such as gloves, workwear, safety glasses and more. This increases efficiencies by allowing you to take full advantage of the partnership and leverage the manufacturer’s knowledge of the industry to ensure your workers are protected from head-to-toe on the job.

REFERENCES
1 https://injuryfacts.nsc.org/work/costs/work-injury-costs/
2 https://data.bls.gov/gqt/InitialPage

This article originally appeared in the January/February 2020 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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