Worn Well—Everything You Need to Know about Replacing Work Boots
While proper maintenance and care can extend the lifespan of footwear, there will still ultimately be a time when every work boot meets the end of the road.
- By Robin Skillings
- Oct 01, 2021
No one likes saying goodbye to a reliable pair of work boots, but it is important for workers to understand when it may be time to start looking for a replacement. Worn out boots are a safety hazard that can also create problems when it comes to the health of your feet.
There are clear signs that those favorite work boots might be wearing out to the point of needing replacement, key identifiers of foot health being in jeopardy and best practices that should always be kept in mind when it comes to maintaining and extending the lifespan of work boots. When it ultimately does become time to start looking for a new pair of boots, there are also important considerations before making a purchase.
When Enough is Enough
While proper maintenance and care can extend the lifespan of footwear, there will still ultimately be a time when every work boot meets the end of the road. This should not be a mystery, as there are several key indicators your boots may have had enough:
Delamination. Delamination of the outsole happens when the cement construction wears out due to either the age of the glue or exposure to caustic materials for lengths of time. The best ways to combat delamination are to remain cognizant of caustic materials that might come into contact with your boots or to look for either a direct attach or Goodyear welted product that is built to withstand more caustic work environments and materials.
Cracks or holes. This is a clear sign your boots are worn. If your work boot has a leather upper, note two things:
- Can you see your safety toe cap through the leather at the forefoot of your work boot? Even if there is only the smallest of cracks, they will grow over time which allows dirt, mud and particulate to enter the inside of your work boot and wear down the inner lining of your work boot and
- Is the leather cracking and dried out at the highest flexion point of your forefoot (where the boot bends)? If so, the integrity of your work boot might be jeopardized.
Damaged toe. If the protective toe in your boot is damaged, it needs to be replaced. Even if a toe cap does not look dented after taking a blow, the boot will still need to be replaced. While a steel or aluminum toe cap might dent or deform after a significant impact, a composite or carbon-fiber toe cap may not appear damaged after a crushing impact, but the chance exists that micro-cracks may have developed. One of the primary jobs of your boot is to provide protection, so a damaged toe is something that should not be ignored.
Too much flexibility. While some amount of flexibility is useful in a work boot, there is a time when too much flexibility poses safety risks. A boot that is overly pliable could mean structural rigidity has been compromised through normal wear and tear.
Falling apart at the seams. If you can see the seams falling apart, it is time for new boots. These boots can no longer provide the protection that safety footwear requires.
While it is important to look for these indicators in boots, workers should also pay attention to their feet. Sometimes even a seemingly perfect-looking pair of boots may need to be replaced. Whether it is sore feet, cramps or blisters, these are all signs your boots may be worn. Boots should provide solid support, so beyond your feet, aches or pains in your legs, back or neck could be indications that it is time to start shopping for a new pair.
Although it is inevitable that boots will wear out, there are measures that can be taken to help slow down this process. Here are several best practices to help maintain and extend the lifespan of footwear:
Unlace your boots before taking them off. While it may be convenient to just kick your boots off after a long day, unfortunately, over time, this bends the heel collar which can cause pressure points and inevitably blisters, places strain on the laces and pulls at the stitching.
Clean your boots regularly. Although boots are often meant to be worn in the mud and dirt, they still need to be cleaned. Over time, mud can break down stitching and cause wear to occur more quickly. When boots get muddy, follow best practices for cleaning, such as waiting for them to dry and cleaning with a soft brush.
Treat your leather. If your boots are subject to water throughout the work day, be sure to treat them. Conditioned leather is more supple (less likely to dry out and crack easily) and performs better at resisting water than untreated leather. Regardless, even if your boots have a waterproof membrane or, at minimum, a waterproof leather upper, wet boots should always be left to dry before putting on for another workday.
Store your boots properly. Whether it is a shoe rack or storage locker, there are several options for storing your boots. Work boots should never be left in a bag, backpack, car or trunk where they become incubators for mold, fungus and bacteria which can cause serious problems for foot health.
Alternate work boots. Just like with sneakers, if you wear the same boots every day, they will wear out more quickly. By rotating two or three different pairs, you can extend the lifespan of all them. As an added bonus, rotating boots gives them time to dry out and ultimately smell better.
All of that being said, it is inevitable that boots will eventually wear out. With so many options for safety footwear available, it can be daunting to select a new boot. With different job sites presenting their own unique requirements, there is no one size fits all approach to boot shopping. This gives workers a lot to consider before making a purchase, but here are some key factors to keep in mind before checking out:
Toe selection. Some trades require workers to have footwear with a safety toe, and it is important to understand which safety toe cap is the best fit for a specific trade. Many boots feature safety toes made from traditional materials such as steel or aluminum. One, newer option that is available are caps made from carbon fiber. Carbon-fiber toes are 15 percent lighter than steel without sacrificing safety and are well-suited for jobs where workers must pass through metal detectors.
Safety Features. Depending on the profession, there are a variety of different footwear options with safety features designed for specific trades. Whether it is reflective webbing for working at night in low lighting, Kevlar fiber for resistance against open flames or an EH rated outsole for electric shock protection, there is likely a boot with safety features designed for success in any trade.
Slip resistance. A common danger on any jobsite is the potential of slipping or falling. Boots with slip-resistant outsoles can disperse liquid quickly and those with multidirectional lugs help provide better traction in mud or even on ice. Slip resistance may sound simple, but knowing the correct outsole tread design for the worksite is important. The level of resistance can depend on factors including the material and tread pattern of the outsole.
If you are shopping in-store for boots, remember to wear a pair of socks you would normally wear on the job. Additionally, it is always better to shop for boots at the end of the day when your feet are swollen and naturally larger than they are in the morning. While boots that are too loose can be safety hazards, boots that are too tight can cause a variety of health problems as well such as blisters and in-grown toenails. Remember to measure both feet as one foot is usually a larger size. Although safety is essential, comfort features should not be overlooked either. After all, you will be wearing these boots all day!
Best Foot Forward with PPE Footwear
PPE footwear can help workers protect themselves from slips, falling objects and other risks on a jobsite. A pair of worn-out boots is more than an aesthetic concern--they can cause potential serious safety hazards and lead to problems regarding foot health.
When it comes to selecting a new pair of work boots there is quite a bit to consider. From safety toe selection to safety features, workers should keep in mind what the requirements are per jobsite to help them succeed no matter their profession. Many new work boots also offer a wide variety of innovative technologies to enable improved comfort and performance on the job. Therefore, while there is a lot to consider when selecting your next favorite pair of work boots, always remember that more features and benefits are being added to safety footwear year after year to provide better performance, underfoot support and further extend the life of the boot.
This article originally appeared in the October 2021 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.