Workplace Solutions Foot protection

Polyurethane foot protection

What should I know about polyurethane foot protection?


Responding is Colin Clark, marketing manager, Dunlop Protective Footwear USA, Havre de Grace, MD.

People have been putting on their boots and going to work for ages, and now the American workforce has more choices than ever.

From the original Wellington boot to the leather cowboy boot, neoprene boot or the value of PVC boots; to one of the latest innovations in safety footwear: polyurethane, or PU, boots, what material is right for your workforce to provide the safety and comfort it deserves?

Let’s start with polyurethane. Polyurethane boots are created from combining polyol, isocyanate and other ingredients (depending on the end users’ needs), and use millions of air bubbles to create a lightweight, thermo-insulating boot with tremendous wear-and-tear resistance. This innovative material can last up to two to three times longer than traditional materials.

Not all PU boots are created equal, as they can be constructed through two processes. The oldest is a low-pressure system that creates a standard PU boot. The optimal process is a high-pressure system that will produce a lighter boot with optimal thermal insulation and tear- and abrasion-resistant properties.

But how does PU stack up against the other boots on the shelf? Let’s look at some key attributes that end users look for when picking safety footwear:

Weight: As mentioned, PU boots consist of millions of air bubbles, making them 35 percent lighter than dipped or conventional neoprene boots, 40 percent lighter than rubber boots, and more than 40 percent lighter than PVC boots. Imagine having 2 to 3 pounds on your feet with every step you take throughout the day.

Comfort: Polyurethane provides up to 40 percent greater flexibility than other materials and is 80 percent more flexible than EVA foam, creating a boot that moves and flexes with the wearer through tasks. Spending all day walking or standing on the lightweight and supple polyurethane, versus hard plastic or heavy rubber, keeps legs and feet fresher longer, without the sweaty feet.

Protection: PU contains the same steel or composite safety components as the other materials while providing more abrasion and wear-and-tear resistance. For instance, the flexible nature and tear-resistant properties of the PU structure of the boot makes it difficult for a knife or blade to have enough pressure to puncture the boot in some instances.

Polyurethane can provide extremely strong protections from animal oils and fats, mineral oils and gas, derived products, and even solvents, but for stronger chemicals, such as concentrated acids and bases, PVC with the right additives is a better choice. (Note: You should always ask the supplier of any footwear to provide a chemical chart on how its boots perform in the chemicals at your workplace and environment.)

Durability: The quality of polyurethane carries a higher price than other traditional materials, but the higher cost often is offset in the longevity or life span of PU. For example, low-pressure PU lasts an average of nine months, and high-pressure PU lasts an average of 12 months. Compare that with neoprene boots that last about six months, PVC, which lasts approximately four to six months, or EVA, which lasts around five to seven months, and the cost to protect your workforce starts to level out, and even tip in favor of PU, over a full year.

The innovative PU boot rises above the competition on almost every category and should be considered in the footwear plan for your workforce. Used in the right applications, you will find that this investment into your team will provide the safety and comfort it deserves.

Editor's note: This article represents the independent views of the author and should not be construed as a National Safety Council endorsement.

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