Finding the Right Fit: When the Work Shoe Fits

Finding the Right Fit: When the Work Shoe Fits

Research shows that ill-fitting work shoes can significantly harm employees.

Search the web and you’ll find all kinds of articles on how a work boot should fit and why it is important to both your employees and your company. While all of it has some truth, everybody gives you the same answer, “The best way to know is to try it on.” This advice, however, is wrong.  

Tried and Failed 

Accurate shoe fitting has been around for decades. In the 1920s through the 1970s, a Pedoscope or Fluoroscope was installed at retail shoe stores. It was basically an x-ray shoe fitter that showed how the bones of your foot fit into the outline of the shoe—how little or too much you could wiggle your toes. 

Concerns arose of the radiation exposure even though the shoe industry at the time denied those claims of harm and touted that the prevention of harm from poor-fitting shoes was greater. Over the years, however, regulations around exposure were implemented as well as even banning the use of the machines in specific states. In 1999, Time magazine placed the shoe store x-ray devices on a list of the 100 worst ideas of the 20th century. 

Though using x-ray technology was innovative at the time, in reality, showing the bones in the shoe did nothing to prove an accurate best fit. Fit is primarily based on the soft tissue of the foot, not the bones, which the x-ray obviously did not show.  

As a result, the average consumer gravitated back to knowledgeable shoe salesmen using a Brannock device to measure foot length and width to determine shoe size. And then came the trial-and-error of trying on styles in that size range from the small and limited back stockroom to determine what felt good in that moment.  

We bought shoes this way for years, but now you are hard-pressed to find a brick-and-mortar store that still knows how to correctly measure feet. With big box and chain self-service stores, that bit of proper fit knowledge got lost or discarded to serve the bottom line of faster service with less investment. And now with the addition of convenient online shopping, today’s struggle is real with buying shoes. How do you know the right fit if you can’t try it on?  

Why the Right Fit Matters 

Cinderella could tell you the right fitting shoe resulted in finding her prince. Your employees could tell you the right fitting work boot results in no pain, more energy and productivity and less recovery from a long hard shift. 

Science and research have proven that ill-fitting work shoes that workers are in for five or more hours on their feet will cause significant harm to their entire body. Whether the work environment calls for traditional, heavy 8-inch lace-ups or the current trend of lightweight lowcut athletics, the wrong fit of either could bring the same detrimental effects to their health and job performance. 

Over the years, the industrial workforce has seen a rise in diagnosed foot issues such as plantar fasciitis and tendinitis as well as knee and back pain—all of which various studies say could be attributed to improperly fitting footwear that misaligns the body making it more susceptible to wear and tear injuries. The wrong fit could also constrict blood flow causing fatigue that leads to distraction errors and injuries. 

These injuries result in employee time off work to rest and heal, worker’s compensation claims, insurance claims, lost productivity, lack of motivation and low morale.  

The New “Right” Way 

Because the right fitting work shoe matters to both your employees’ long-term health and to your company’s immediate level of productivity, variable cost and overhead; It is important to focus on and implement a way to achieve. Technology has come a long way since the 1920s, and even since the 1970s, and so has knowledge around the importance of and how to get that right shoe fit. 

Encompassing a fourth of the bones in the human body, hundreds of ligaments and tendons and no two feet being alike (even on the same person!), the complexity of the foot is a challenge that demands greater than two-dimensional measurements by Al Bundy. Enter the use of 3D cameras and artificial intelligence (AI) to prove a better fit—it’s a transformational innovation to buying footwear. And that technology has recently stepped into the wonderful world of work boots.  

Forward-thinking safety footwear providers are now offering 3D foot scans to individual employees telling them everything they didn’t think they could know about their feet and body—degree of pronation, misalignment, weight distribution, pressure points, exact length, width, instep and arch height, girth of midfoot, and more – the best scanners providing 12 to 16 points of data.  

It is All in the Data 

The individual benefit of capturing all that personal foot data allows employees to address, prevent and alleviate foot and body pain issues so they can leave work every day just as healthy as they arrived.  

In addition to 3D foot scanners, there are also online service platforms like True Fit that that can recommend a best fitting shoe based on a brand that the consumer already has in his/her closet that fits well. Say you have never purchased Brand A before; so, you don’t know how it fits, as all brands can undoubtedly fit different. Utilizing manufacturing design data of hundreds of brands with consumer feedback on how they fit, True Fit can tell you what size to wear in Brand A compared to what size you wear in Brand B. 

By combining the personal consumer foot data captured from tens of millions of 3D foot scans with mountains of manufacturing design data and even bigger mountains of consumer feedback data, recommending the best fitting boot to buy or order is as accurate as it has ever been.  

While this data will undoubtedly be used to improve and transform product development of all footwear on the market, a safety footwear provider can also utilize it to improve their work boot online shopping experience by recommending a top selection of best fitting styles based on that individuals foot data. Since the shoe will fit the first time, this will reduce your return rate. 

When the Work Shoe Fits 

The Cinderella-inspired idiom of “if the shoe fits” may sometimes have a negative implication. For example: Company X allows their employees to buy safety footwear wherever and whenever and now has reported injuries and significant lost time off resulting in low productivity. 

That is not the negative implication of “if the shoes fits” you want anyone to say about your management performance or company. Implementing a way to ensure your employees are wearing the right fitting work boot is an added value to both your bottom line and workplace safety culture. 

Partnering with the right safety footwear provider to help you control compliance, selection and ensure the right fit for all your employees will help you turn that “if” into a “when.” And that’s a win. 

This article originally appeared in the September 1, 2022 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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