Power to the People
Taking safety footwear beyond standard compliance
- By Janelle Kinnaird
- Nov 08, 2023
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires you to provide employees with personal protective equipment (PPE) when used to comply with OSHA standards. Compliance is critical to avoid warnings, fines and sanctions.
But is minimal compliance enough to keep your employees safe?
Since PPE is critical in every work environment, let’s break it down. From fit to style and hard hat to footwear, it is personal. If the product does not accurately fit each individual, its protection is compromised and could actually result in additional safety issues. If your employees are unable to choose a product they like and feel comfortable in, they won’t wear it. And if you don’t have a process in place to manage knowing what they wear, you could be ignorantly out of compliance — and just waiting for the preverbal shoe to drop.
Let Them Own It
One of the basics of a positive, effective safety culture is to empower employees to feel like they have a say in their own well-being. Break free of a black-and-white world of rigidly enforcing the rules as the only solution. Instead, embrace the colors of competence, good training and personal ownership.
Hiring quality workers means they not only meet or exceed the skill level needed for the job but also know how to think and manage their environment independently. Workers have greater awareness to their surroundings and should be responsible for preventing any accidental or long-term physical hazards that could occur and should be trained and encouraged to have that power.
Employees want this power. With the training and knowledge of their job and environment, the freedom to decide, act and react on what is best for their own safety and their co-workers’ safety, regardless of cost consequences, results in a safer work environment they want to return to every day.
When the Shoe Fits
While the goal of PPE is protection from accidental injury, there has been recent positive noise around the importance of accurate fit to ensure safety and prevent unnecessary issues.
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. 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.
Supplying employees with tools and ways to choose their most accurate fitting pair of work boots will enable them to prevent these pain and injuries, thus empowering them with greater control over their physical health. This enables them to perform better at work and have greater energy after work for family and personal activities with no need to take off for recovery, but to return the next day focused and ready to go.
This tangible way to control their wellness is perceived as a positive benefit from their employer that results in higher morale, retention and longevity.
Tech Is Better Than Trying It On
Forward-thinking safety footwear providers are now offering their employees the most advanced way to fit on the market — a 3D foot scan. Scans can tell 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.
Utilizing this personal foot data, technology can recommend a brand and style for each individual employee that’s practically guaranteed to fit better than an in-store try-on. Let’s face it: just because it feels good after a 5-minute wear test in a store or on the back of a shoe truck does not mean it fits right, am I right?
Empower the PPE
Complementing Safety Footwear with other tangible items that enhance fit and performance is another advanced step towards greater control of physical health for employees.
Your employees are industrial athletes. If professional athletes utilize tech garments to enhance their performance and recovery, men and women spending extensive hours on their feet performing grueling physical all-day work should also incorporate these same products into their workday. They may not be considered PPE, but they can certainly take physical protection from injury and ailments to the next level.
All feet are built differently. Add in physical wear, tear and breakdown from excessive standing, and we create a need for personal adjustment to re-establish natural body position and alignment. When the body is out of alignment, it works unnecessarily harder, fatigues faster and is prone to injury and ailments.
Custom orthotics built to relieve pressure, reposition foot tissue, tendons, and muscles, and to properly position the arch to align feet, knees, hips & back will prevent issues, correct current ailments, and relieve debilitating pain. When all is aligned, not excessively stretched, and free of pain, the body expels less energy and is, therefore, less tired.
Premium insoles can help reduce muscle fatigue with custom cushions, body-weight pressure and shock absorption, and heel support for stability.
The sport athletic industry has seen great benefits from incorporating compression garments to enhance performance, provide pain relief, prevent injury and aid in recovery. Introducing this concept to industrial athletes would be just as beneficial.
Compression is shown to increase blood circulation back to the heart, which can prevent blood clots, minimize swelling and reduce pain and fatigue. It also increases the oxygen level in muscles, which increases a person’s energy level and aids in recovery from exertion by preventing soreness.
Compression also keeps muscles warm, which enables them to be more flexible and have a wider range of motion, decreasing risk of injury. Some compression products even provide the benefits of a kinesiology taping treatment.
For workers developing foot and body issues and experiencing pain and fatigue, the compounded relieving effect of wearing compression socks and custom orthotics in a properly fitting work boot could prove substantial for both their physical health and love for their job.
While empowering your workforce to take control of the PPE they wear and the environment they work in will prove to spike your work culture and lower incidents and claims, you should also have a process in place that manages the visibility of what they wear to control compliance, reduce risk and ease the burden of ensuring correct protection.
A managed PPE program that allows you to create a specific catalog of products based on the safety features required will ensure that employees are wearing the proper equipment for their jobs to protect them from accidental injury. A catalog with thousands of options to choose from ensures each employee gets the most accurate fit and a style they like to wear. This optimizes participation and compliance and extends protection to prevent long-term pain and ailments.
Subsidizing specialized foot wellness products, in addition to their safety footwear, as part of either a safety program or an employee wellness program is an innovative solution that enhances employee safety by giving them greater control over how they can optimize their Personal Protective Equipment while providing a company a benefit incentive that encourages healthy, more productive employees.
You supply approved safety footwear with a wellness incentive, and they appreciate the benefit and choose to wear it for greater health and performance — win, win.
This article originally appeared in the November/December 2023 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.