The National Safety Council, in its “Selection and User Guide for Protective Footwear,” recommends immediately replacing impact- and compression-resistant shoes if there’s “evidence of physical damage” to the toe area. For safety footwear with metatarsal guards, immediate replacement is also recommended after an impact has occurred or when the metatarsal guard is exposed from wear and tear, according to the guide.
It should be noted that safety footwear with steel toecaps will offer more visual clues of damage than shoes with composite material toecaps. If a heavy object falls on a steel toe shoe or boot, the steel cap will be visibly dented and will not come back. Composite material shoes, on the other hand, could maintain their form but still be damaged considerably.
If the footwear’s steel midsole or steel shank guard is showing, this is also an indication for immediate replacement.
For waterproof or chemical-resistant footwear made with rubber or PVC materials, if there is any type of separation of the rubber or PVC parts, or cuts or cracks, this type of footwear will require immediate replacement in order to protect the employee.
The same protection issues arise with slip-resistant footwear. Once the tread has significant wear and becomes smooth and loses its grip, it loses it effectiveness and can become a safety hazard itself.
For all types of industrial footwear, general wear and tear is usually a lot greater and much more rapid than footwear as a whole. This is due to the hard surfaces and job tasks involved, which cause the midsole and outsole degradation to occur a lot quicker.
The outsole of most industrial footwear is made from shock-absorbing materials such polyurethane or rubber. Many “industrial midsoles” today are also made from soft EVA and polyurethanes. As these materials are worn down the majority of the time in an uneven pattern, there can be a critical loss of shock absorption and balance and motion control. This can lead to increased muscle fatigue and pain.
To help overcome this increased pain and fatigue as the footwear ages, contoured shock-absorbing replacement insoles can be of great benefit. In order to provide the employee with maximum comfort and shock absorption, the material combination of the insole is paramount. The insoles should be constructed using a soft and not hard foam or gel, more specifically memory foam between 25 and 45 durometer.
Memory foam is both temperature and pressure sensitive and self-customizing, allowing it to dynamically compress and rebound with each step of the walking cycle. A soft contoured arch support and deep heel cup in an insole are also required to provide motion control and balance, which can be lost while wearing older footwear as the heel counter loosens. Using the correct anti-fatigue replacement insole can therefore extend the life of the more expensive industrial footwear it complements. The insoles themselves should be replaced at least at the same time as the footwear but even sooner if warranted.
In summary, due to the unique nature and qualities of industrial footwear as it relates to employee health and safety, it is highly recommended to replace the footwear and its complementary anti-fatigue replacement insole on a six-month cycle and, under certain circumstances (mentioned above), immediately.