Early in my career, I worked at a chemical plant in Texas. That company supplied employees with one pair of steel-toed shoes each year. A shoe truck came to the site, and you had your choice of any pair of shoes on the truck. In Texas, cowboy boots are popular, and I would get a pair for work each year. Talk about a poor choice of footwear for a chemical worker. [Editor's note: There are modern cowboy boots now on the market that meet the demands for comfort and other safety protection features.]

First, cowboy boots have a high heel, which makes walking difficult even on a good surface. Second, the heel is a hazard when climbing rung ladders, which are very common in that industry. Cowboy boots also have a loose fit around the calf of the leg — a perfect way to get liquid into a boot.

I wore cowboy boots on and off the job for about 20 years. Years later, I had problems with my feet, and went to a foot doctor. He asked me two questions: Do you wear cowboy boots? Have you begun walking or jogging more than usual over the last six months? My answer was yes to both questions. The doctor told me to throw out my cowboy boots and to buy some well-made running shoes. Wearing the right shoes could have prevented me from having heel spurs.

Paying the price
That story shows you the importance of having the right footwear for the job. Slips and trips are the most common injuries, many times due to the type of footwear being worn. In the workplace, non-skid soles need to be required. Make sure you include that specification for employees in the office. The floors in most offices are kept waxed and can be very slippery.

I once worked for a chemical company that had several plants in the United States, but the main office had the worst injury rate. The injuries were mostly slips and trips on the stairways and were caused by high heels and dress shoes. We ended up requiring office employees to wear non-skid soled shoes and high heels were not allowed.

Selecting the right shoe
If hazards exist that could result in toes being crushed, then steel-toed shoes must be a requirement. Definitely for workers at risk of heavy items falling on their feet, and especially for employees who handle drums. Rolling a drum that could weigh up to 500 pounds definitely places your toes at risk.

Workplaces that have the possibility of objects falling on a worker’s instep require metatarsal protection. Metatarsal work shoes have come a long way over the years — they are now lighter and less clumsy. There is also an option of having metatarsal protection built into the shoe.

Electrical hazard safety shoes or boots are needed for those employees who work in electrical hazardous areas.

Ankle protection
Shoes or boots that reach above the ankle and are tied tightly to the leg support the ankle and are needed in construction and other types of jobs that involve working on uneven surfaces.

Chemical boots
Many times a chemical boot only has to be used when doing a specific task or working near a specific hazard. Chemical boots are normally hot when worn for long periods, so it is preferable that they not be worn for extended periods. Some chemical boots are designed to be worn over a work shoe.

Foot fatigue
People buy shoes or boots for their looks and many times don’t even consider comfort. The good news is that the comfort of work shoes has vastly improved. A good selection of name-brand shoes is available in work styles including steel toes and metatarsals.

The arch support and cushioning of the shoe are very important for the worker who is on his feet for extended hours and/or working on a hard surface like concrete. Remember, cushioned floor mats are also needed in these areas.

Safety shoes come in all styles and do not have to look clunky. Sports styles are popular, along with a good selection of dress shoes, so those office workers can have style along with safety.

Many safety shoe distributors offer van service. The shoe truck can be convenient for your company because the shoe distributor can have a list of who is eligible to get shoes and can accommodate a payroll deduction plan if needed.

Having a local shoe store as a part of your program can be a good idea because the local salesmen can give the employee a good selection and fit.

Keeping our feet safe and making sure that your workforce wears the correct safety footwear for the job can reduce foot injuries and also help limit slips and falls.

Safety footwear is one more tool in your safety kit.