Does your safety program include training workers on the importance of wearing the proper footwear (e.g., shoes, boots, specialty boots) on the job? Improper footwear can cause injuries, disrupt work schedules and lead to costly compensation claims. It’s important that workers understand why proper footwear is often required by employers.
The National Council on Compensation Insurance estimates the average cost of a lost work day foot injury is more than $9,000.
Depending on the severity of the injury, failing to ensure the worker was wearing appropriate footwear can lead to a fine from OSHA as high as $13,260.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), foot injuries sidelined more than 50,000 construction workers in 2014. The majority of these injuries were caused by falling objects, crushings, punctures and lacerations. Employers can reduce the likelihood for these injuries by educating workers on foot protection, ensuring they always wear appropriate footwear and knowing when extra protection (e.g., metatarsal guards, rubber boots, anti-slip protection) is needed for the task at hand.
What Should Workers Have on Their Feet?
What boots workers should wear depends on the job requirements and hazards of the work environment. The standard steel toe, alloy toe and composite toe work boot will help protect workers from falling objects, rolling objects and objects piercing the sole. If the work involves hot surfaces, such as a paving operation, the work boot should also have a heat-resistant sole. Boots may also need to protect against slips, chemicals or electricity. In order to be in compliance with OSHA, footwear must meet either the American Society for Testing Materials (ASTM) F-2413-2005 standard, the American Nationals Standards Institute (ANSI) Z41-1999 standard or ANSI Z-41-1991 standard.
What Else Should Workers Look for When Selecting Footwear?
- The footwear must grip the heel and feel comfortable
- The forepart must allow freedom of movement for the toes
- The shoe or boot should have good slip-resistant treading
It’s also important for workers to:
- Understand footwear will not stretch over time
- Have both feet measured (feet differ in size)
- Buy shoes to fit the bigger foot
- Buy shoes late in the afternoon (feet tend to swell)
- Consider buying shock-absorbing insoles if they must walk or stand on hard surfaces
Steel Toe vs. Alloy Toe vs. Composite Toe
All of these boots protect the toes from being crushed and are required when working in areas where there is a danger of foot injuries due to objects falling, rolling or piercing the sole. However, there are differences. Instead of steel, boots with alloy toes use a mixture of aluminum and titanium. Composite toe boots use materials like Kevlar, plastic and carbon fiber, which are required when an employee’s feet are exposed to electrical hazards.
Steel toe boots are cheaper than alloy and composite toe safety boots, but also tend to be heavier. While all three must meet the same impact and compression standards, steel toe boots also conduct heat and cold, so the wearer is more likely to feel the effects of the weather. Steel toe boots also conduct electricity and can be hazardous around live wires.
Alloy safety boots are up to 50 percent lighter than steel toes. Because materials like titanium are much thinner than steel, these boots can offer more comfort for the wearer thanks to significantly more room in the toes. However, alloy safety boots will still conduct electricity.
Composite toe boots weigh less than steel, which can make a difference over the course of a busy workday. Composite toe boots do not conduct electricity and because they don’t contain metal, offer better insulation against extreme heat and cold. However, it can be difficult to tell if the toe cap has been damaged, which could pose a hazard with continued wear. Steel toes and alloy toes show dents that can easily be spotted and indicate the boot needs to be replaced.
No job site is immune to the possibility of a worker suffering a debilitating injury. But when the right pair of work boots is worn, injures are less likely, less serious and less costly to both the worker and the employer.
[Janet Lubman Rathner]