Choosing the right footwear
What do workers need to look for when buying foot protection?
Responding is Xavier Kawula, product manager – work and hunt, Rocky Brands, Westwood, MA.
Footwear is the key to a comfortable and safe day on the job. Standing for long periods of time can lead to tired, injury-prone feet, which is why being equipped with the right footwear should be considered essential to any occupational safety and health protection program.
Slip resistance is an important part of a safety shoe and something that all workers should look for. However, a standardized/credible slip rating is something that can cause a lot of aggravation. Many footwear producers claim their products are “slip resistant” or call their slip resistance “fair” or “good,” or use another subjective term. If you’re truly looking for footwear to be compliant to a slip hazard assessment plan, it’s important to be able to review the manufacturer’s actual slip scores in standardized tests. SATRA Technology, a testing organization, has a whole-shoe test that is the current standard for slip-resistance testing. At a minimum, look for SRA-rated footwear when a certified option is important.
Consider all features
When looking to purchase footwear for the job, you can’t simply look at the upper material. It’s important to focus on the overall boot and evaluate it based on the job at hand. Check out the physical durability, chemical durability, slip resistance, and safety features such as protective toe caps and comfort. Finding the right shoe is about the right fit and protection for your duties, and not based solely on your occupation.
As with any footwear, fit is the most important feature. No matter the quality of materials or excellence of design, a boot that doesn’t match your foot’s particular shape will be uncomfortable. Questions to ask when boot shopping: Do your toes have room to move? Is there noticeable heel slippage? Are the lining materials rough or have heavy seams? Does the insole have too much or too little structure?
One of the newer considerations significant to many occupations is climate control. In the past, higher temperature ratings were the top consideration, with the understanding that more is always better. Now, we’re seeing a demand for climate control features in boots rather than simply insulation. High insulation values that cause the wearer to perspire create a worse condition than the cold itself, as perspiration condenses. This draws even more heat out of the body, especially when the person goes from active to inactive.
Although the evolution to “greener” material use in the casual footwear market has existed for years, environmentally conscious decisions are seeping into every aspect of our lives today. For work boots, this means taking a closer look at and greater responsibility for the way we build and choose our products. Not only are sustainability factors of the materials important, but also transparency across the supply chain – from fair labor factories and corporate social responsibility to carbon emissions.
Be sure to invest in quality, fit, comfort and the protective features that will be best for the job, with an eye toward sustainable materials and social responsibility around production. Footwear should be a top consideration of any occupational safety and health program.
Editor's note: This article represents the independent views of the author and should not be construed as a National Safety Council endorsement.