Help Workers Put Their Best Foot (Protection) Forward

Basic foot protection is a sturdy shoe or boot made of leather, rubber, or a synthetic. It has an impact-resistant toe—usually steel—and nonskid soles with rubber or synthetic treads to prevent slips and falls. Other possible protections workers may need in shoes or boots are:

  • Metal insoles or reinforced soles to protect against puncture
  • Nonconducting soles and no nails in the shoes themselves if they work with electricity
  • Rubber boots or shoes or leather shoes with wooden soles if they work in wet conditions
  • Heat-resistant soles if they work in areas where the floor gets hot
  • Easy-to-remove “gaiters” if they could get splashed by hot metal or by welding sparks
  • Impermeable rubber or neoprene boots to wear over or instead of work boots if they work with corrosives or hazardous chemicals

Remind workers that toes need special protection. The American National Standard for safety-toe footwear referred to in the OSHA standard deals with the strength of the toe box. The top classification, 75, will withstand the impact of 75 pounds per square inch falling on the foot. As further protection in jobs where heavy objects could land on workers’ feet, they might also wear foot guards made of aluminum alloy, fiberglass, or galvanized steel over their shoes.

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Even if you’re convinced workers know how important it is to protect their feet, you may still face their reluctance to wear safety shoes. Employees may say they are too ugly, too heavy, too uncomfortable, too expensive, and so on. Respond to workers in two ways.

  • These days, not one of those complaints is justified. The safety shoes available today, when properly fitted, match or surpass most other shoes for comfort. Appearance and price are also comparable in most cases. Special features adding to convenience or shoe life have become available, such as easy-on/off side zippers and linings that resist mildew and bacteria.
  • When the hazards of a job call for foot protection, the use of appropriate foot protection is required—and the fact that a worker may prefer not to use it is really beside the point. It’s part of your job to see to it that employees wear necessary protective equipment, and it is part of the employee’s job to do so.

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Finally, besides proper selection and fit, remind your workers that the condition of shoes is also important. For example:

  • Soles that are worn thin can be easily punctured by sharp objects, or a painful bruise can result if you step on a stone or sharp object.
  • Rundown heels can cause you to lose your balance and fall or perhaps turn your ankle.
  • Shoelaces that are too long are an obvious tripping hazard.

Encourage workers to take good care of their safety shoes and report wear and tear. Conclude by exhorting workers to think on their feet—and about them.

Why It Matters

  • In a recent year there were 130,000 disabling foot injuries.
  • There were another 40,000 toe injuries on the job.
  • Most of those could have been prevented by wearing the proper foot protection.

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