Ideal for “toe protection only” applications, overshoes have steel toecaps inserted into a PVC or rubber galosh.

In many industrial settings, when it comes to foot protection, oftentimes only toe protection is required. This is where the steel toe overshoe can be a safe and cost-effective choice. However, because the safety toe overshoe is not eligible for certification by the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) and the Canadian Standards Association (CSA), it has become a bit of an orphan in North America.

ASTM and CSA testing
Regarding requirements for toe protection, American and Canadian foot protection standards are identical. Outlined in ASTM 2413-05 — which replaced the ANSI Z41 standard in 2005 — and CAN/CSA Standard Z195, testing and measurement requirements for impact and compression on steel toecaps used in safety footwear are the same. And all manufacturers of steel toecaps must conform to minimum North American requirements.

Since safety toe overshoes available today do not provide sole penetration and metatarsal protection, they cannot be tested as “whole footwear.” Because North American standards bodies only certify products that conform to their definition of “safety footwear,” test results are “qualified,” which means although they may pass foot protection requirements for impact and compression, they won’t have ASTM Standard or CSA Approval ratings or markings. When combined with the customary practice of relying on labels and badges, this has resulted in a barrier for cost-effective safety products in the area of toe protection-only. This is unfortunate, because there are applications when “toe protection required” need not result in overprotection.

European equivalent
The experience is not the same in the European markets, where toe protection products are accepted for CE certification by SATRA, one of the world’s most respected footwear certification bodies. Certified steel toe safety overshoes are sold into the European PPE sector of the safety footwear business.

Developments in Europe have seen the creation of a separate safety footwear category. In 2006, steel toe overshoes that meet minimum requirements on impact and compression tests, and which comply with ergonomic aspects of “whole footwear” products, have been certified for use. Toe protection overshoes passing these tests are permitted to carry the European CE Mark. Temporary workers in emerging markets such as Turkey and Poland have benefited greatly from this initiative. Multi-nationals familiar with safety toe overshoes have also benefited from CE Approval.

Assess your environment
Although you won’t see a toe protection product on the market today with an ANSI tag or a CSA badge on it, since these organizations have tested the steel toecaps for impact and compression, OSHA has deemed rubber safety overshoes acceptable where conditions permit. If a hazard assessment reveals that toe protection to the minimum standard will suffice, a steel toe overshoe can be a safe, cost-effective option.

Newspaper and paper production work environments are examples of industries in which “toe protection only” may be an appropriate assessment. Large rolls of paper and proximity to large pieces of equipment dictate toe protection rules but none of the other requirements of safety footwear.

By far the largest market for safety toecaps is the “footwear for visitors” sector. Since steel toe overshoes are hygienic and transferable from person to person, they can provide an economical alterative to safety boots for this market. They are well-suited for applications in which toe protection is needed to resist impacts and compression from falling objects or injury in heavy lifting accidents. Examples include: occasional trips by office personnel to receiving docks; university personnel working on assorted research projects who are often required to move heavy objects; and maintenance and cleaning staff.

Another potential application is diabetes sufferers, for whom a full safety boot may cause unnecessary discomfort or even injury to the foot.

Evaluate other benefits
With protection from toe injury provided by the same steel toecaps used in safety boots, users need only evaluate other overshoe safety features. Fit and slip resistance are of utmost importance.

Charles Goodyear’s invention of vulcanized rubber has long been associated with safety footwear, for good reason. Rubber has tactile qualities that became more sought after than its waterproof properties. Rubber overshoes are highly slip-resistant. Some overshoes made of PVC have been engineered to produce innovative anti-slip soles.

In the area of fit, consider the various heel types, as excess material underfoot can be a hazard. Fit is important, too, when it comes to compliance. A good fit can help encourage regular use.

Regarding cost-effectiveness, the life of an overshoe is directly related to its specific use. If users are walking on a clean surface, wear and tear will be minimal. But when conditions underfoot are harsher, the basic material of the overshoe becomes important. That’s when durability, thickness and resistance to nicks and cuts are important. Overshoes have steel toecaps inserted into a PVC or rubber galosh and points of contact and abrasion can result in product failure at an early stage. Cost benefits of overshoes can be lost if they must be replaced on a regular basis.

Of particular interest in the food processing industry, toe protection products may have other beneficial features. They completely encase the outer shoe, and “gunk” brought from the outside is insolated for the duration of the tour. Likewise, in the chicken processing industry, where water is a large component, waterproofing is afforded the worker who wants to wear comfortable outer shoes but have simultaneous toe protection.