There are few hard and fast rules regarding protective footwear in the workplace, but enough potential liabilities exist to make research into the various types of safety footwear well worth the time and effort.

While not always obligated to provide protective footwear, the employer is responsible for making sure each worker is properly outfitted for the job. Protective footwear must be worn if there is a hazard of:

  • falling or rolling objects
  • punctures
  • stubbing or banging
  • chemical or corrosive contact
  • electrical shock
  • burns
  • slips and falls.
The right shoe for the job
Consider these features when choosing a shoe that will protect against the hazards in your workplace:

Steel or composite toes — Steel-toed boots or shoes are probably the best-known safety footwear. They resist impact and protect against compression. Look for footwear that meets the American Society of Testing and Materials (ASTM) F2413 standard.

An alternative to the steel-toe is a hard polymer composite material. Composite material meets the ASTM standard but is much lighter and does not set off metal detectors.

While protection must always be a top priority, style is important, too. Today’s steel or composite-toed footwear comes in a multitude of styles, from wingtips and oxfords, to thick-soled boots that lace up to mid-calf, and everything in between.

Where there is a danger of heavy objects crashing down on the foot, shoes and boots are available with features such as metatarsal guards that fit over the top of the feet and resist impact.

When considering safety toe footwear, also consider whether the job site includes an electrical hazard (EH). In an EH environment, you’ll want your safety toe boot to be EH-rated.

Puncture resistance — While there is no such thing as puncture-proof footwear, there are puncture-resistant boots and shoes. These soft or steel-toed boots and shoes also come in an array of styles. Although puncture-resistant footwear can cost more, it is worth the extra dollars when it saves a trip to the doctor because of an injury or for a tetanus shot.

Don’t be shocked — Static dissipative (SD) footwear is required in cleanrooms with sensitive computers and machinery, and when working with highly combustible chemicals. These shoes are engineered to dissipate static electricity with a combination of insole, sock liner and conductive threads that allow the normal electricity generated over the course of a workday to pass harmlessly through the bottom of the shoes rather than build up and spark a potential catastrophe.

Jobs that require SD footwear may also require chemical-resistant footwear. The same combustible chemicals that can explode with only a spark can also be corrosive if splashed or spilled. Rubber or neoprene-covered boots and shoes are good selections. The higher the shoe collar, the more protection the footwear provides.

High and dry — Keeping feet dry is always a priority. Any job that requires a lot of movement means there will be sweaty feet even in cool conditions. Special footwear linings are available to wick water away, drawing moisture from the foot to the outside layers of the shoe.

Oil-resistant soles provide slip resistance on oily surfaces and the soles don’t absorb the oil.

Good fit — No footwear is safe unless it fits. Toes should be about 6-12.5 mm (1/4-1/2 inch) from the tip of the boot or shoes, and allowances must be made for extra socks (during the winter or in cold working conditions) or arch supports. Boots and shoes should fit snugly around the heel; all boots should be fully laced for the best support.

Finally, even if protective footwear is not deemed necessary, employees should still wear sturdy shoes with nonskid soles. Sandals, sneakers or dress shoes are not appropriate for many work activities.