Wearing appropriate footwear definitely has saved many toes and many feet from broken bones. It also can save lives, particularly when slippery floors or stairs are an issue. By the same token, inappropriate footwear can cause or aggravate existing foot problems. Thanks to innovations in design, workers don’t have to choose between being fashionable and safe.

The best way to involve workers in programs to protect their feet is to provide them with education on foot hazards and the importance of appropriate footwear. Workers should be given the guidelines for selecting proper foot protection based on the work and the hazards found in the workplace. They also should receive information about general foot care.

In designing workplace strategies to protect foot injury, remember the fundamental principle of occupational health and safety: that occupational hazards should be eliminated at the source. The role of personal protective equipment is to minimize exposure to specific occupational hazards, and protective footwear does not guarantee total protection.

According to OSHA CFR 1910.36, “The employer shall ensure that each affected employee uses protective footwear when working in areas where there is a danger of foot injuries due to falling or rolling objects, or objects piercing the sole, or when the use of protective footwear will protect the affected employee from an electrical hazard, such as a static-discharge or electric-shock hazard, that remains after the employer takes other necessary protective measures.” Other hazards can include molten metals, hot surfaces, chemicals and wet or slippery surfaces. Protective footwear, according to OSHA, must meet ANSI Z41 or equivalent design requirements.

Jeff Goodwin, Red Wing Shoe Co.’s director of industrial business, took a look into his crystal ball and came up with these predictions for protective footwear:

Lighten up, but have purpose – “Generally speaking, lighter and more breathable materials are in high demand with no immediate signs of letting up,” said Goodwin Today’s industrial footwear manufacturers are wrestling with how to use lightweight textiles while continuing to have their products hold up.” There needs to be a  balance between lightweight and traditional materials to ensure products are able to withstand harsh work environments, he added.

Greater consideration of the “toe package” – “Safety professionals are learning that non-metallic toe footwear meets the same ASTM standards as traditional steel-toe products,” Goodwin said. The decision to include or not include a metallic toe usually is driven by a functional need based on the footwear’s intended environment, said Goodwin, which significantly may affect the desired shape, weight and heat/cold transfer properties of the product.

Environment-specific footwear – Workers across several industries used to lace up the same pair of boots each day, resulting in the ubiquitous term “work boot.” “Increasingly, new materials technology and engineering ingenuity are creating an array of features that can offer enhanced flexibility, stability and performance for work environments with very unique and specific needs,” said Goodwin.

A case in point, is a new boot introduced for workers in the food and beverage processing industry.

The injected polyurethane boots combine waterproof construction with a urethane sole for slip resistance, thermal properties to stay warm in refrigerated conditions, a special chevron sole with wide channels for easy cleaning, an antimicrobial liner and varying colors to prevent cross-contamination of materials from one part of a plant to another.

Female-friendly footwear – Many PPE options, including footwear, have been sold as unisex or universal fit for years, providing women smaller sizes of footwear made for men. “As women comprise more of the industrial workplace and encounter sizing and safety hazard issues, the industry is moving from a ‘shrink it and pink it’ mentality to offering new products specifically designed for women with fit and comfort in mind,” according to Goodwin.

The use of appropriate foot protection, choosing correct flooring and designing job tasks and the workplace to eliminate static standing for employees can be a winning combination when it comes to foot safety.

And with that, I’ll leave you with one more famous quote: “Feets, don’t fail me now.”  – Willie Best.

Choosing Footwear

What should employees know when buying footwear for work? According to the experts at the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety, good footwear should have the following qualities:

  • The inner side of the shoe must be straight from the heel to the end of
  • the big toe.
  • The shoe must grip the heel firmly.
  • The forepart must allow freedom of movement for the toes.
  • The shoe must have a fastening across the instep to prevent the foot from slipping when walking.
  • The shoe must have a low, wide-based heel; flat shoes are recommended. They also offer this advice:
  • People buying footwear for work should not expect that footwear that is too tight will stretch with wear.
  • Workers should have both feet measured when buying shoes. Feet normally differ in size. Buy shoes to fit the bigger foot.
  • Buy shoes late in the afternoon when feet are likely to be swollen to their maximum size.
  • Ask a doctor’s advice if properly fitting shoes are not available.
  • Consider using shock-absorbing insoles where the job requires walking or standing on hard floors.
  • When selecting footwear, remember that tight socks or stockings can cramp the toes as much as poorly fitted shoes. Wrinkled socks, or socks that are too large or too small, can cause blisters.