Footwear selection

September 1, 2004
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Anyone working in an industrial environment knows that injuries to feet can often be major, traumatic events. Using the wrong protective equipment or no protection at all can cause deadly electric shock, amputations or other serious, life-altering injuries.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were approximately 60,000 foot and toe injuries in private industry in 2002. The typical cost of these incidents can run into thousands of dollars each.

Determining when and how to protect feet should be part of your overall personal protective equipment (PPE) program.

OSHA requires that employers perform an assessment of potential hazards in each type of job category and workspace. Then you need to decide what type of foot protection is required to adequately safeguard your workers from these hazards.

Checking your list

Here is a sample foot hazard assessment checklist that should help you determine if protection is needed (a “yes” answer would require PPE):

  • Could tools, heavy equipment, or other objects roll, fall onto or strike your employees’ feet?
  • Do your employees work with or near exposed electrical wiring or components?
  • Do your employees handle molten metal or work near such operations?
  • Do your employees work with explosives or in an explosive atmosphere?
  • Are some of the floors wet or slippery?
  • Do your employees work in hot or cold conditions?


Intended purpose

Keep a chart of the job duties and clearly describe the hazards involved. You will then have to determine what type of safety shoe is needed.

If chemicals are involved, check the material safety data sheets (MSDSs) to see what type of protective equipment the chemical producer recommends. Safety footwear manufacturers provide tags and labels that inform workers of the footwear’s intended purpose. For example, the tag might tell the worker that the footwear is slip-resistant, protects from falling objects, or protects from electrical hazards. Never assume that the shoe will also protect against a hazard that is not specifically identified on a tag. If the hazard is not identified on a tag, the shoe may not protect against that specific hazard.

If you are unsure, contact the manufacturer directly and ask if the shoes are OSHA-rated for the specific hazards found in your work environment. Check the OSHA standards for foot protection (§1910.136). The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) standard Z41-1991 on foot protection referred to by OSHA can be purchased through ANSI’s website (www.ansi.org).

Depends on the hazard

Safety shoes come in a variety of materials and styles. The following types of footwear are designed to protect against different hazards:

  • Steel toe or composite toe shoes protect against falling objects and crushing hazards. The composite material does not transmit heat or cold and will not trigger metal detectors.
  • Metatarsal footwear has special guards that run from the ankle to the toes and protect the entire foot; protects against very heavy falling objects and significant crushing hazards.
  • Shoes with reinforced soles have metal reinforcement to protect the foot from punctures.
  • Latex/rubber footwear resists chemicals and provides traction on slippery surfaces.
  • Shoes with heat-resistant soles protect against hot work surfaces in roofing, paving and hot metal industries. They may be designed to be electrically nonconductive.
  • Footwear with special insulated liners protects against freezing outdoor conditions and refrigerated environments.


Worker involvement

OSHA requires employers to provide adequate training on the PPE workers will use. This training for foot protection includes:

  • What specific hazards the equipment will protect against;
  • The limitations of the equipment;
  • When employees must wear their PPE;
  • How to adjust straps and laces on shoes to ensure a proper and comfortable fit;
  • How to clean and maintain shoes;
  • How to identify signs of wear and tear in the equipment;
  • How to inspect PPE for scrapes, cuts and lacerations. For shoes, look for holes or cracks in soles and heels and signs of separation between soles and uppers.

If you want to achieve a high compliance rate, include your employees in the footwear selection process. Form an employee-supervisor selection committee to review various options and test samples for comfort and use. Provide a variety of sizes, styles and colors. Set aside specific time periods to perform fittings by knowledgeable individuals, such as the manufacturer’s rep.

Use your imagination. One fun activity might be to have volunteers, such as employees or other supervisors, walk down the aisle in a PPE “fashion show.” Your workers will love it. Provide training on the same day your employees make their selections.

Document your hazard assessments, selection and training process; sign and date the documentation and file it in a convenient location. These papers are your PPE certification, as required by OSHA.

And remember — if your workers choose it, they will use it.

Written for Business & Legal Reports by freelance editor Marcia Wagshol who contributes regularly to BLR’s OSHA Required Training for Supervisors and BLR’s Monthly Reminder. Visit BLR’s Web site at www.blr.com.

SIDEBAR: Foot Safety Checklist

Wear approved safety shoes or boots to protect feet and toes from:

  • Falling objects;
  • Punctures;
  • Rolling objects;
  • Stubbing or banging;
  • Chemical and corrosive contact;
  • Electrical shock and burns;
  • Slips and falls;
  • Heat and cold.

Select footwear to protect against specific job hazards:

  • Steel toes to resist impact;
  • Metatarsal guards to resist impact above the toes;
  • Reinforced flexible metal soles or inner shoes to protect against punctures (if there’s no risk of electrical contact);
  • Metal-free boots or shoes with nonconductive soles for electrical hazards;
  • Rubber shoes or boots with rubber, synthetic or wooden soles for wet surfaces;
  • Wooden shoes or aluminized heat-protective footwear for hot walking surfaces;
  • Removable gaiters without laces or eyelets in areas with welding sparks or hot metal splashes;
  • Rubber or neoprene boots in areas with potential chemical or corrosive splashes (check MSDS to match footwear with individual chemical);
  • Special insulated liners to protect against freezing conditions.

Follow general foot safety rules:

  • Always wear sturdy shoes with nonskid soles;
  • Don’t wear sandals, sneakers or old dress shoes;
  • Get a good fit.

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