Safety Footwear 101: How to Protect Your Entire Foot

When shopping for protective footwear, like men’s & women’s pull on work boots and lace-ups, there’s an almost overwhelming array of options to choose from. There are dozens of specifications and ratings systems for all kinds of resistances and protections. Every manufacturer has its own special technologies, and each individual safety shoe model offers something unique.


But is there a simple way to go about it? A catch-all?


What type of footwear protects your entire foot… from everything?


The answer depends on what “everything” is. Essentially, what kind of foot protection do you need? This guide will walk you through the various different types of protections you can expect from safety footwear, then list options to consider for your particular circumstances.


Know What Features You Need, and Why


Safety is the most important consideration on every job site. Every worker knows how important it is to wear the appropriate gear and personal protective equipment for a given task, whether that means a hard hat, face shield, safety glasses or goggles, or welding gloves.


Your footwear is just as important, no matter the task.


The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), a division of the US Department of Labor, suggests that all workers in potentially hazardous situations wear protective footwear to prevent the risk of foot injury.


The specific situations that require protective footwear, per OSHA, involve:

  • Explosive substances

  • Corrosive materials

  • Electrical hazards

  • Slippery surfaces

  • Molten metals

  • Puncture risks

  • Heavy objects

  • Extreme heat

Each of these hazards poses unique threats, and many of them are often present in conjunction. For example, many job sites feature all of:

  • Slippery surfaces from oil spills

  • Sharp tools that could pierce through your foot

  • Heavy machinery that could fall or roll over your foot

However, other hazards are more unique, such as the presence of explosive substances. In any case, it’s important for workers to protect themselves from any and all hazards their job site might entail. That often means combining multiple features together.


However, not one shoe can protect against every possible danger. If this is the case, a better question would be: what type of footwear that protects your entire foot is available?


Safety Isn’t One Size Fits All


Many of the resistances and features above relate specifically to protections necessary for personal protective equipment (PPE) that’s required on certain job sites. However, not all resistances are necessary for every job. In fact, some resistances aren’t right for certain jobs.


For example, some protections are direct opposites:

  • Electrical hazard (EH) shoes prevent currents

  • Electrically conductive shoes create currents

An electrical hazard shoe is designed to protect you from electrical shocks by resisting or minimizing your shoe from completing an electrical current. A side effect can be built-up static electricity.


On the other hand, an electrically conductive shoe (often referred to as static dissipative (SD) or electro-static Dissipative (ESD) shoe) is designed to do just the opposite. These shoes actually attempt to complete a current, preventing buildup of static.


These features are incompatible!


A worker who’s surrounded by electrical hazards would need to opt for an EH shoe. But a work environment that includes hazards—like explosives, sensitive electronics, or errant sparks are common—necessitates conductive or Static Dissipative (SD) shoes. A worker who has to work in both situations would need a pair of each.


That’s why the best way to think about safety shoes is to prioritize certain features and look for combinations that work for your specific needs.


What Combination is Best for You?


When shopping for a pair of work safety boots or shoes, it’s important to look out for logos and model names that indicate the exact protections you need.


Be sure to scan for the following language:

  • Safety toe – For protection against impact, puncture, and compression, look for a safety shoe with an ASTM-rated toe box made of:

  • Steel: the heaviest and most durable

  • Composite: synthetic, lighter, but just as protective

  • Metal alloys: lightweight but durable and slightly more expensive

It is important to note that a safety toe can be made from various materials other than steel. To answer a frequently asked question: does safety toe mean steel toe? Nope! Steel toes fall under the category of safety toes, not the other way around.

  • Met guard – An extension of the safety toe, a met guard offers additional protection for the metatarsal bones connecting your toes to your ankles. They come in two varieties:

  • External, sitting on top of the laces

  • Internal, integrated beneath the laces

  • Slip resistance – A common feature on boots and shoes, slip resistance offers extra traction to prevent falls on spilled oil or other slick surfaces.

  • Electrical hazard – EH-rated footwear is designed to withstand electrical circuits of up to 1800 volts at 60 hertz in dry conditions for 1 minute with no leakage in excess of 3 milliamperes. Individual shoes may meet or exceed these specifications. EH shoes feature non-conductive sole materials:

  • Rubber

  • Polyurethane

  • PVD

  • Various combinations

  • Electrically conductive – Marked with SD or ESD tags, these specialty shoes are designed to create paths for currents in order to prevent static shock buildup.

Other common features often included in safety shoes, like waterproofing, may also suit your needs. And, in addition to safety features, there are also other considerations like weight and flexibility. Aesthetics and cost may also be factors, dependent on the person.


Rather than looking for a type of footwear that protects your entire foot from everything, you want a shoe that has the exact features you need.


For that, we’re here to help. At Boot World, you’ll find the perfect shoe for the perfect circumstance. Need to protect your feet? We’ve got you covered.


Sources:


Find My Footwear. Understanding Grip Ratings for Non Slip Footwear. https://findmyfootwear.com/understanding-grip-ratings-for-non-slip-footwear/


ISHN. Footwear Standards Define Performance Criteria. https://www.ishn.com/articles/102642-footwear-standards-define-performance-criteria


OHS. A Guide to Safety Footwear Regulations. https://ohsonline.com/Articles/2018/04/01/A-Guide-to-Safety-Footwear-Regulations.aspx


OSHA. Personal Protective Equipment. https://www.osha.gov/Publications/osha3151.pdf


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