Comprised of 26 fragile bones and very little padding, feet are extremely susceptible to injuries on the job. In fact, the National Safety Council reports 180,000 foot injuries on average a year, which amounts to 400 or more cases per day. From manufacturing plants and steel yards to construction sites and farms, it’s no secret that protective toecaps are essential in helping to protect feet from rolling, falling or dropped objects.

A man known as Mr. Davidson first developed the concept of a protective toecap in 1927. To make his idea of a steel toecap become tangible, he employed the help of H.G. Josephson, a founder and president of Eastern Tool and Stamping Co. (ETASCO). Davidson and his financial backer, Arthur Williams, owner of the Goodwill Shoe Co. in Holliston, Massachusetts, agreed to an exclusive production contract with ETASCO, and in 1928 the initial stages of steel-toe manufacturing began1.

Originally produced at 42 thousandths of an inch thick, 600,000 pairs of the steel toecaps were sold in the first five years after the initial introduction. In 1949 the thickness was increased to 52 thousandths of an inch, and today, over 100 million pairs2 made every year worldwide are 62 to 86 thousandths of an inch thick to ensure they pass the demanding impact and compression tests of safety footwear standards in various markets.

Are you up-to-date?

Since 1967, footwear manufacturers were responsible for ensuring their safety-toe footwear met ANSI Z41 performance standards. In fall 2004, the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) Committee on Personal Protection-Protective Footwear (Z41) rolled into ASTM International Committee F13 on Safety and Traction for Footwear. Since the merger, the Z41 standard has been withdrawn and the new ASTM standards, F2412-05 – Standard Test Methods for Foot Protection and F2413-05 – Standard Requirements for Protective Footwear, now provide the industry regulations for protective footwear.

The new ASTM F13 standards include several revisions regarding protective toecaps. Only Class 75 and Class 50 ratings for Impact (I) and Compression (C) remained. Class 75 classification footwear still has to maintain a minimum clearance of five-tenths of an inch to withstand a force of 75 foot-pounds (101.75 Joules) in an impact test and 2,500 pounds of pressure in a compression test. Class 50 classification footwear has to maintain a minimum clearance of five-tenths of an inch to withstand a force of 50 foot-pounds (67.8 Joules) in an impact test and 1,750 pounds of pressure in a compression test. The methodology of compression resistance test was changed to ensure consistency of results.

Because the overall changes to the ANSI Z41 standards are minimal, most ANSI-certified toecaps and footwear will still be in compliance with the new ASTM standards. While manufacturers will update footwear labels to reflect these changes, employers also need to make sure their PPE footwear requirements are up-to-date and compliant as well. This is an ideal time for employers to consider the various protective toecap technologies available in order to recommend the most effective types of PPE footwear to employees.

No heavy metal

In instances where non-metallic footwear is required, employees would traditionally wear a steel-toe work shoe with an insulated toecap to prevent friction. A few years ago, though, footwear manufacturers began developing a new kind of protective toecap constructed without any metallic components. The resulting composite-toe safety footwear consists of a non-metallic, non-magnetic toecap constructed of either layered fiberglass resins or polycarbonate injection molded plastics.

While a composite toecap must meet the same standards and fulfill the same functions as its steel-toe counterpart, composite-toe footwear offers several advantages. Composite-toes are usually 30-50 percent lighter than steel-toes and resist corrosion for longevity and durability. In addition, composite-toes are three times less conductive to cold and retain heat 50 percent longer in wind chill tests.

Most recently, safety footwear manufacturers unveiled a new protective toecap composed of aluminum-alloy. The aluminum is mixed with various amounts of titanium or other alloys to create a lightweight toecap that does not compromise durability or strength and meets ASTM F13 standards.

Your choice

It’s up to employers and employees to determine what type of ASTM F13-certified toecap is best suited for each job duty. In addition to considering protective toecaps and other PPE footwear requirements, employees are encouraged to gauge the overall comfort of the boot before making a purchase.

With so many styles of protective-toe footwear now on the market, the industry has come a long way from Mr. Davidson’s initial concept of the original steel-toe work boot.

FOOTNOTES:

1 “Safety Steel Toes to Mark 50 Years of Growth … The American Steel Toe Story.” ETASCO.

2 Unofficial estimates by leading safety-toe suppliers.