Foot protection

Tips for choosing safety footwear

I work as a railway inspection and maintenance specialist and have recently noticed workers wearing boots with safety features I haven’t seen before. What trends in footwear safety could benefit me in my line of work?

Responding is Brandon Barker, brand manager, Justin Original Workboots, Fort Worth, TX.

Answer: Today’s work boots offer safety features that weren’t considered decades ago and better protect against the most common injuries, including those experienced in the railway industry, from falling or rolling objects to electrical hazards.

Specifically, I recommend any worker who spends time in an environment where these risks are high to look for boots that are able to claim meeting or exceeding the Canadian Standards Association’s certification – tough standards that protect against the hardest working conditions.

Metatarsal protection

Metatarsal injuries are painful and can require a long recovery process. Steel toe boots don’t provide protection to the metatarsals, so I recommend choosing a boot that addresses this area of the foot. Some CSA- approved boots incorporate the protection of a shield-like feature that overlays the composite toe and runs to the top of the instep. This provides protection that absorbs impact so your feet don’t.

Composite safety toe

Although most boots with a composite safety toe provide security, only select brands meet or exceed ASTM F2413- 11 standards for impact, compression and electrical hazards. Coming in at a fraction of the weight, certain work boot options provide protection without weighing the wearer down.

Electrical hazard compliance

There’s always the chance of exposure to electrical currents in railway work, so look for boots that meet the CSA 2011 standards by providing protection from open electrical currents up to 18,000 volts.

Outsole offerings

Although many new safety features focus on the construction of the inner work boot, the outsole shouldn’t be ignored. A good outsole can provide excellent resistance to heat, chemicals, oil, gas, chips, marking and slipping. When faced with extreme temperatures or unsafe, slippery surfaces, a sturdy outsole that offers gripping features can be a lifesaver.

In addition to offering protection in the workplace, I recommend considering technologically advanced products that provide comfort and convenience for long, grueling workdays, which can include:

  • Flexible, cushioned insoles for ultimate comfort
  • Dual-density memory foam for stabilization, while still allowing freedom of movement
  • Waterproof construction that ensures feet stay dry no matter the weather conditions

Lastly, a proper-fitting boot can benefit you as much as some of these protective features. Take these three things into consideration when shopping for a new pair:


The instep should fit snug, but not tight. If the instep is too loose, you’ll experience excessive slipping in the heel. If it’s too tight, it could cause heel and toe pain. Consider various widths as an option for the perfect-fitting instep.


The ball of your foot should rest on the ball of the boot. If it’s too short, the ball of your foot will sit too far forward and force the toes into the toe box, causing pain.


You might experience slight slippage in the heel with a new pair of boots. However, as you break them in, the sole will flex and, with time, you’ll notice most of the slippage will disappear.

Editor’s Note: This article represents the independent views of the author and should not be construed as National Safety Council endorsements.

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