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Responding is Mark Reilly, utility division director, KEEN Inc., Portland, OR.
Laying a foundation for worker safety truly starts from the ground up. Footwear safety is paramount for skilled craft trades across the board. One small misstep or incident can result in varying levels of injury, causing lost time and compromised well-being. Finding protective footwear that is not only comfortable for workers, but also protective, is key to starting the workday out on the right foot.
Craftsmen know they need the right tool for the right job. That same theory applies for footwear. When looking at a specific trade – in this case, working with and around electricity – special attention must be paid to footwear to reduce the possibility of electrocution or other electricity-related incidents on the jobsite.
There are three general classifications for safety footwear from an electrical standpoint, and all three have very distinct purposes.
Non-conductive footwear. Non-conductive footwear often is classified with an “EH” rating. Shoes with this rating are insulated to help ground electricity from accidental contact with live circuits or electrical equipment. When it comes to safety toes, EH-rated boots can have steel or composite toes. A common misconception is that metal in a boot is bad when working around electricity. The reality is, metal is conductive when it is in contact with other metal. Metal safety-toe caps, steel shanks, etc., are enclosed by non-conductive materials (often leather, rubber, insulation, etc.) and are therefore safe to wear in environments where live circuits are present. It also is important to select a boot with a rubber outsole that will help to ground any charges during an incident. Rubber outsoles also are long-wearing and slip-, water- and abrasion-resistant and will help to protect the wearer from slips or falls on the jobsite.
Anti-static footwear. Boots with this classification are designed for workers operating in environments sensitive to static electricity. Anti-static footwear helps to dissipate the accumulation of static electricity from the body while still providing a reasonable level of resistance to electrical hazards from live circuits. These boots are typically marked with ESD or SD tags.
Conductive footwear. Conductive footwear helps to protect the wearer in an environment where the accumulation of static electricity on the body can be a hazard. These workers often handle explosive or volatile materials. Conductive safety footwear is made with materials and cements that offer no electrical resistance. When shopping for boots, one might come across the term “static-dissipating.” Static-dissipating does just that – it reduces the amount of static electricity accumulated from walking, movement, etc. The boots dissipate static electricity from the body to the ground to reduce the chance of ignition from a static electric spark. It is important to remember that these boots offer no protection from live charges or electrical equipment.
As you can see, the first step to protecting yourself in electric or volatile environments starts with knowing what you need to be protected from. From there, it will be the performance and comfort features integrated into the boot that will set it apart from the rest.
Some simple tips to remember when shopping for your next pair of work boots:
Do your research first. Find out what requirements you might have in your work environment and what personal needs you may have.
Shop for boots in the afternoon or early evening. Feet tend to swell throughout the day, especially for those who work while standing. By trying on footwear when your feet are at their largest, your work boots will feel comfortable, even on the longest days.
Come prepared. Bring a typical pair of well-padded socks that you might wear to better understand how your boots might fit.
Don’t forget about comfort. Brands today incorporate many comfort features to partner with their performance and protection enhancements. Ortholite insoles; lighter, more asymmetrical steel-toes; additional padding; and other modern comfort features all go into making a pair of boots that will still feel as comfortable when you take them off as when you put them on.
Don’t forget your “homework.” Aftercare for your footwear provides a longer life for your boots. Treat leather with mink oil or leather treatments to keep materials supple and resistant to water. Store your boots in a clean, dry place to reduce odors and preserve the leather.