Foot protection means guarding your toes, ankles and feet from injury. Believe it or not, your feet have 26 bones for support and 38 joints for movement — in each foot. Feet also have blood vessels, ligaments, muscles and nerves, which is why it hurts when you stub your toe or drop something on your foot. Your feet are a critical part of your body that you use everyday and, in some cases, enable you to do your job effectively.

Let’s examine the different types of foot protection available to workers and best practices for fitting and maintenance.

Types of protection

Steel toe— Steel toe, or protective toecap, footwear utilizes steel or composite cap to help reduce toe injuries from falling or rolling objects. In addition to falling or rolling objects, protective toecap impact-resistant footwear must be worn where there are hazards of sharp objects, hot objects and saw cutting. This would include workplaces where heavy materials and/or heavy equipment are used.

Metatarsal guard — Made of aluminum, steel fiber or plastic to protect the top of the foot, commonly called the instep, protective footwear with metatarsal impact resistance must be worn where there are hazards of falling objects, rolling objects, sharp objects, hot objects and saw cutting. Galvanized steel foot guards provide extra protection for the bridge of the foot.

Puncture resistant — This protective footwear utilizes a steel mid-sole to provide protection from sharp objects (such as nails, wire, tacks, scrap metal or glass) penetrating through the sole of the shoe into the wearer’s foot. This footwear is also applicable for protection against hot objects or saw cutting.

Electrical hazard — This type of protective footwear is designed to provide protection against open circuits of 600 volts or less. While no metal is allowed in the sole or the heel, the protective toe can be made of steel or composite.

Conductive — In workplaces where there is a hazard of static ignition, conductive sole protective footwear must be worn. Conductive footwear incorporates a sole that is constructed of a conductive material designed to electrically ground the foot. Conductive soles, however, offer no protection where there is a hazard of an electric shock.

Static dissipating — In some workplaces, where flammable or explosive materials are present or where the buildup of static electricity must be minimized, workers may be required to wear static dissipative footwear. Static dissipative footwear incorporates a sole that allows small charges of electricity to be dissipated into the walking surface, thus reducing the accumulation of static electricity. SD footwear is generally used in the electronics industry to prevent damage to electrical circuits.

Chemical resistant — Chemical-resistant footwear is usually constructed with impermeable rubber or neoprene. This footwear is to be worn in areas with potential chemical or corrosive splashes. Check the MSDS to match footwear with individual chemicals.

How do they fit?

Protective footwear should be comfortable — not too loose or too tight. When wearing the footwear, you should be able to slip one finger in the back of the shoe or boot. This will ensure you have enough room for your toes in the front. You should be able to move your toes freely and bend your foot without feeling the steel toe.

Protective boots or shoes will not shrink or stretch to fit your feet, so you must get a good fit initially. Take the boots or shoes home and walk around in them. Make sure they are comfortable and fit right. If you find they do not after wearing them for an hour or so, you should be able to take them back for another size. Check the return policy of the supplier where you purchase your boots or shoes to make sure this is acceptable.

Wear them well

When you first purchase your boots or shoes, treat them with a water repellent to protect the leather or canvas. You may not work near or with water, but if you wear your boots outside on a rainy day, you’ll be glad they are water treated. Water repellent treatment is available at most shoe and boot stores or a local general retailer.

Regularly inspect your footwear for cuts, separated seams or other wear and tear. If damage exists, or if something substantially heavy falls onto your steel toe and weakens it, it’s probably time to buy a new pair of protective boots or shoes.

Train your employees regularly on the proper use and limitations of their protective footwear. Show them how to properly wear and care for their particular footwear.