What are Safety Shoes and When Do You Need Them?

Before the 20th century, it was cheaper to replace a worker than to add safety measures. With the Industrial Revolution came a massive influx of workers and companies that depended on them. It also introduced workers’ unions and safety requirements we still have today. Thanks to these safety standards, workers in construction, transportation, manufacturing, and even food and retail are required to wear safety shoes daily. Safety shoes are available in a variety of styles including women's and men's slip-on work boots, lace ups, steel toe, composite toe work shoes, mod toe and safety sneakers. In this article, we will explain where this proper footwear started, what makes a safety shoe, and the different types of safety shoes and why they are worn.

Why worry about workers’ footwear?

When you think of work injuries, foot injuries may not be high on your list of worries, but they are more common than you’d think. At least 60,000 foot injuries lead to missed workdays every year. The cost of this to companies can reach over $950 million dollars. When you measure the cost of these injuries with the cost of requiring your workers to wear safety work boots, you can see the savings.

Origin of safety shoes

Now you know the reason to require safety shoes in any given work environment, but you may be curious about where the concept of safety shoes came from. The first protective boots that workers wore were called Sabots. These were simple, hollowed-out wooden shoes that kept French and British farmers’ feet safe from falling objects. This was a common footwear choice until the Industrial Revolution when workers started throwing Sabots into machinery to stop production during protests.

In the 1930s, industrial workplace safety issues were beginning to be addressed, and the Red Wing Shoes Company started to make steel toe boots in Germany for workers and military officers not commissioned in wartime. Safety issues continued to take precedence after the war. In the 1970s, the United States Congress passed the Occupational Safety and Health Act to ensure safe and healthy work conditions for employees. This act included the creation of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to enforce standards relating to workers’ safety.

What qualifies as Safety Footwear?

In the beginning, men's and women's safety shoes were built with only a safety toe. These were historically steel, but eventually included Aluminum Alloy, Composite Materials, and Carbon Fiber toe shoes. These composite toe vs steel toe shoes were tested to follow standards by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI). As time went on, foot protection grew to mean protecting your toes, ankles, and feet from hazard and injury. The safety shoe standards were moved to the American Standards for Testing and Materials (ASTM), and the areas of concern grew to falling objects, stepping on sharp objects, heat and cold, wet and slippery surfaces, and exposure to corrosive chemicals. As many job sites contain risks of slipping and falling due to slick surfaces, we offer a broad collection of slip-resistant shoes for men and women.

OSHA and ASTM standards now cover performance requirements, testing standards, and standard labeling. As every work environment is different, the responsibility to require specific safety shoes falls on employers. OSHA requires employers to assess the workplace to determine hazards that may necessitate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). Failure to comply with OSHA requirements can result in thousands of dollars of fines.

Different types of safety shoes and why they’re worn for added protection

According to OSHA standard 1910.132 (d)(1), employers must assess the workplace to determine if hazards necessitate PPE. Protective footwear must be used when employees are in danger of foot injuries due to falling or rolling objects, objects piercing the sole, or where employees' feet are exposed to electrical hazards according to OSHA standard 29CFR 1915.156 (a).

The following footwear performance requirements are addressed in the ASTM F2413 standard:

  1. Impact and Compression resistance doesn’t require a steel toe, but a protective toe cap has to be a permanent part of the shoe or safety boot to protect the foot from falling objects or crushing from heavy rolling objects.

  2. Metatarsal protection reduces the chance of injury to the top of the foot. Proper footwear should be designed to cover the toe and the metatarsal bone area between the ankle and toes.

  3. Electric Shock resistance: An EH rated shoe protects the wearer from shock when standing during an application of 18,000 volts at 60 hertz for one minute with no current flow or leakage in excess of 3 milliamperes under dry conditions

  4. Conductive properties prevent a buildup of static electricity that may cause explosions or damage to sensitive electronics in specific factories or applications.

  5. Puncture/Penetration resistance requires a permanent plate to be positioned between the insole and outsole of the safety footwear to resist penetration from sharp objects like nails and glass.

  6. Chainsaw cut resistance protects the foot between the toe and lower leg when operating a chainsaw.

  7. Static Dissipative rates the shoe’s ability to safely conduct any buildup of static electricity through the sole and into the floor.

  8. Dielectric insulation footwear is designed to provide insulation if accidental contact is made with conductors or circuits.

The responsibility for protective footwear lies mainly with the employer, but employees should be informed about their safety shoe options and when safety shoes are required. We hope this article helped explain the history and reasons for protective safety shoes and what types of shoes there are available.

Have more questions about safety footwear? Visit one of Boot Word’s locations today to get expert advice and input!

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