Foot protection

Finding the right fit for safety footwear

How do I find the right shoe for the job, according to personal protective equipment standards for footwear?

Responding are Palmer Woods and Matt Gould, product development, Hytest Safety Footwear, Rockford, MI, with consultation from Bob Alvarez, Vulcan Safety Footwear, Atlanta.

Finding the best resource for safety footwear is now a level playing field for making the right selection. This is due in a major part to the OSHA rule 1910.132 for PPE, which mandates how companies train employees to “don, doff, adjust and wear” the correct safety boot or shoe for each specific hazard.

An effective safety shoe specialist can walk through your plant with you, point out hazards and help specify the appropriate footwear needed for a particular area. Then, after you and the specialist develop a safety shoe program, the specialist’s trained personnel can come to your plant and correctly fit all personnel with appropriate footwear.

Here are the major categories of safety footwear available:

Safety toes – These styles contain steel, alloy or composite toe guards built into the shoe so they cannot be removed. This additional protection is important for employees who work in environments where objects could drop on or roll across their foot, causing injury.

Electrical hazard shoes – Electrical hazard shoes are designed to impede the flow of electricity through the shoe and to the ground, which can reduce the possibility of electrocution.

Please note: Electrical hazard shoes are not designed to be the primary source of protection in an electrical hazard environment.

Static-dissipating shoes – Static-dissipating shoes are designed to reduce the amount of static-electricity buildup on the body. Static-dissipating shoes actually conduct static electricity through the linings, insole and outsole into the ground.

Several factors must be controlled to achieve a consistent static-dissipating environment. First, you cannot add any insole to the shoe, except a specially designed static-dissipating insole. If a non-static-dissipating insole is added, static electricity will not flow through the insole.

Also, the floor and sole of the shoe must remain clean and free of dust and other foreign matter to maintain good contact between the sole and the floor. This allows static electricity to flow through the sole and into the ground.

Conductive safety shoes – Conductive safety shoes are designed to “conduct” static electricity through the shoes and into the ground. Conductive safety shoes dissipate static electricity much faster and more completely than static-dissipating shoes. This is because conductive safety shoes are worn in environments that are highly flammable and explosive, which means reducing the possibility of a static spark or discharge is critical to the safety of everyone in the vicinity of the explosive area.

Important: Because conductive safety shoes conduct electricity, employees wearing these shoes must avoid wearing them in electrical-hazard environments.

Training and maintaining

After you have your workers wearing the correct safety footwear for each environment, the safety shoe specialist can and should conduct active safety shoe seminars for your employees.

During these seminars, employees should be trained on how to maintain their safety footwear.

Equally important is maintaining the footwear. The most common cleaning area is the heel where debris and mud can cake, preventing the heel from working with the rungs on a ladder, making for a dangerous fall hazard.

Getting the right safety shoe specialist in your corner can go a long way to enabling you to get the correct footwear for your personnel and make sure they are fitted properly.

And that is the right fit for everyone.

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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