How to Assess Workers’ Needs to Find Proper Protective Footwear
The style, fit and materials of your boot could be the difference in safety or an on-the-job injury.
- By James Iwanski
- Feb 01, 2021
Did you know that injuries to the lower extremities are the second most common type of injury behind injuries to the upper extremities? According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were over 900,000 workplace injuries that resulted in days away from work in 2018. Of those cases, more than 10 percent were related to foot or ankle injuries.
Foot injuries cause significant pain for those affected and create significant burdens for safety professionals. In addition, injuries affect employee morale, hinder production and output, hurt employee recruitment and cause significant legal and regulatory headaches. Nothing is more important for a business than worker safety, and as a safety professional, you’re at the forefront of ensuring everything can be done to decrease the likelihood of jobsite injuries.
So where should you start? While there are many different aspects to worker safety, providing employees with the proper footwear can go a long way toward reducing the frequency and severity of injuries. Here are a few things to consider in order to find the right protective footwear and improve safety on the job.
Understand Work Environment Risks
In order to select proper footwear, safety professionals must first assess the work environment to understand what their workers need protection from on the jobsite. Go with a safety footwear company that will help you evaluate your work environment by going through the areas below:
- Slips, trips and falls. Are the floors often covered in oil or other liquids that might increase the risk of slips or falls? Other examples of high-risk fall surfaces include polished concrete, slippery floor materials, stairs without no-slip treatments and uneven flooring.
- Common impact sources. Are there any objects in the work environment that pose a risk of falling or being dropped on workers’ feet? Tools on raised tables, large crates being lifted or other heavy materials being moved are examples.
- Compression or rollover risk factors. Do workers interact with objects or terrain that might cause compression or rollover foot injuries? This could be automated closing doors, pallet jacks or forklifts.
- Static dissipative causes. Are employees at risk of coming into contact with static charges from things like sensitive electronics?
- Electrical hazards. Does the work environment contain objects such as exposed or aging wiring or electrical equipment that might cause electrical injuries?
- Puncture risks. Is there anything commonly found in the work environment, such as scrap metal, pallet nails or glass, that might puncture footwear and cause injury?
Take Time To Get Fitted
The best boots on the market will only perform optimally if they fit properly, so it’s crucial your employees take the time to find their correct size. Look for a footwear company with certified fit specialists to help employees find the right fit. These experts have the knowledge, skill and experience to understand how to fit for many different foot shapes and sizes. They take many factors into consideration, including length, width and arch.
A combination of traditional methods as well as new technological tools, like digital scans, analyze the unique size, shape, arch height and pressure points on each foot to reveal indispensable data for getting a customized fit. It’s also important to consider gender-specific footwear design because women and men’s feet are shaped differently. Go with a footwear manufacturer that uses gender-specific lasts to create purpose-built footwear—this will ensure the best fit possible. When workers walk away with the correct boot size, it increases the likelihood of all-day comfort and decreases the chance of workplace injuries, keeping your employees safe and protected on the job.
After the worker is properly fitted, it’s time for the best part—picking out the work boot purpose-built for the specific job. Due to innovative materials across all types of footwear, people are now wearing lighter shoes in their free time. As a result, today’s workers now expect their work boots to be lightweight and not bulky while still meeting safety standards and featuring the latest performance attributes. Advancements in materials have allowed certain manufacturers to bring lightweight footwear options that perform under the toughest conditions to market, allowing for comfort on and off the jobsite.
Different seasons also require different types of materials to keep feet cool, warm or dry depending on the weather. When temperatures are hot, workers should wear boots made out of breathable materials that include cooling textiles. Freezing temperatures require insulation, so go with work boots that use traditional lofted insulation, or consider footwear made with new warming materials using aluminum technology. This innovative paper-thin technology actually reflects and retains body heat to surround and keep your feet warm. To ensure feet stay dry in wet conditions, opt for a footwear company that uses a three-layer waterproofing system to help move moisture away from the foot, provides additional cushioning and utilizes a waterproof bootie to act as a barrier, ensuring a complete system.
It’s also important to remember that a work boot doesn’t need to always look like a traditional work boot. There are now stylish options that look like everyday shoes but meet jobsite safety standards. They can also include features like best-in-class slip resistance, electrical hazard protection and safety toe options. Plus, these alternative options allow for an easy transition from work to everyday activities.
Accessories Make A Difference
When you think about footwear, it’s important to think about all of the items that encompass it on the jobsite, which includes socks and footbeds. Socks are much more than a piece of material covering the foot—the right sock can manage moisture, regulate temperature and deliver tactical cushioning to keep workers’ feet dry and comfortable all day long.
The material of the sock plays a key role in enhancing the overall fit of a boot. Wool-blend socks naturally regulate temperature, keeping feet comfortable in both hot and cold environments while resisting odors and wicking away moisture. In addition to material, the sock height and cushioning should be considered. A sock height of 1 inch or more above the boot collar is ideal, while strategically located cushioning zones in the heel, forefront and toes add comfort for long hours in demanding environments. Finally, similar to a boot, the sock should be knitted on a foot board shaped like a male or female foot, since foot shape differs depending on gender.
Orthotic footbeds help to prevent foot fatigue and injury and provide added comfort in your work boot. Fit is the most important component in footbed selection. There needs to be enough space in the boot to accommodate the footbed. The footbed also needs to match the shape of your foot, including your arch height. Footbeds are made up of several layers, all of which consist of key performance features including antimicrobial and odor managing, shock protection, friction-reduction, stabilization, heel and arch support, added durability and, of course, increased comfort. To find the right footbed, your workers should visit a footwear company that uses a digital scanner to access a foot’s pressure points in order to determine the best type.
Maintenance Deliver Results
Purpose-built footwear will perform and last, but it’s important to take the time to care for work boots to ensure long-lasting results. Your workers spend countless hours on the jobsite in a variety of elements that take a toll on work boots, so taking the time to clean, condition and protect them is crucial in extending the life of the boot. Look for a footwear company that provides care products that were designed and tested to enhance the life of your boots. Depending on the jobsite, workers may need a waterproof or foam cleaner, a conditioner such as mink oil or leather cream and finally, a leather protector.
Purpose-built footwear starts with detailed craftsmanship using quality materials, but a work boot will only keep workers safe if it’s accurately designed for the work environment, fits properly, is outfitted with the right socks and footbed and well-maintained. A footwear company that delivers in all of these areas will help equip your workers with the right work boot for the job.
This article originally appeared in the January/February 2021 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.