According to a report from the United States Department of Labor, the combination of foot and toe injuries associated with private industries, goods production and service provision totaled more than 83,500 in 2009. It is also widely recognized that slips and falls are among the leading causes of injuries. Costs associated with these types of injuries in the workplace are staggering, not to mention the lost work time and decreased productivity for individuals and companies. Proper safety footwear is an essential part of a safe and compliant work environment.

More options than ever

Over the last 20 years, the safety footwear industry has seen a lot of progressive changes, both in the footwear itself and the way the industry operates. Worksites are becoming safer, with stricter safety standards being mandated by OSHA. In response to requirements for safety footwear in more and more workplaces, manufacturers are now offering more options than ever before.

The variety of styles of safety footwear available today is also being impacted by changing workforce demographics. As Baby Boomers continue to age and leave the workforce, they are being replaced by younger workers who don’t want conventional safety footwear. This demographic is demanding the same features and benefits from their work footwear that they get from their casual footwear. They are able to select footwear based not only on their work needs, but also on comfort and style preferences. Much like a street shoe, safety footwear is now constructed to be lighter with extra flexibility and comfort insoles for consumers who are often on their feet all day. Safety options such as steel or composite toe, metatarsal guards, electrical hazard protection, static-dissipative and non-slip outsoles are available in a wide variety of styles. Consumers can now choose from safety footwear that is athletic, dressy, pull-on or lace-up to fit their personal style and comfort needs.

From shoemobiles to online shopping

The company-mandated purchase of safety footwear has also changed with the times. Historically, shoemobiles have been the method for consumers to find a variety of shoes to fit their needs. In the early nineties, companies typically allotted $55 to $75 to employees to spend at these trucks that go from worksite to worksite selling safety footwear. This allotted subsidy almost always covered the consumer’s cost of a new pair of boots. Today, average footwear subsidies range from $75 to $95. Although the majority of company subsidies have increased, consumers often still have to pay out of pocket because most quality safety-compliant boots cost more than $100 when purchased from a shoemobile. The reason for this is simply that fuel and standard maintenance expenses involved in operating a shoemobile have risen over the years. In turn, these heightened costs are being passed along to consumers when the shoemobile method is utilized to procure safety footwear.

Not only can buying off a truck cause a consumer to pay a higher price, it also has very limited footwear options. A shoemobile can only feasibly carry 65 to 75 styles on the truck, which drastically limits the variety for consumers. Today, there are literally thousands of styles of safety footwear to choose from that simply can’t be housed on one truck. So how can consumers find footwear within their budget that meets both their safety and aesthetic needs? Fortunately, there is an alternative so today’s workers will no longer have to be constrained by the limited selection of safety footwear on a shoemobile. The answer is to go online!

Ease & affordability

Online retailers are quickly becoming the easiest and most affordable places to purchase safety footwear. When purchasing online, consumers can often get a higher quality shoe with more of the features they demand for considerably less than off of a shoemobile. The benefits of online ordering are plentiful, including convenient 24/7 ordering, no hassle of crowds or lines, informative reviews and feedback on products, effortless price comparisons, no pressure to choose or buy immediately and massive selection due to infinite shelf space. Ordering online can also quickly fulfill safety footwear needs rather than having to wait for a scheduled shoemobile visit.

Though some managers are hesitant to send their employees online to buy footwear, online retailers are combating the uncertainties by making online purchases cost-effective, user-friendly and customer-service oriented. Consumers can find more options for footwear that are safety compliant while staying within their footwear subsidy when they shop online rather than in a traditional retail store or shoemobile.

Additionally, there are online safety footwear programs available that can be uniquely customized to fit specific company needs. Representatives can help safety managers determine the appropriate safety footwear needs for their specific work environment and then create custom websites with tailored shoe selections for employees to choose from. Billing can also be adjusted to fit the company and employee needs. Options range from company subsidies, payroll deduction programs, invoicing and credit card purchases. These custom websites give management greater control over their safety footwear program and offer peace of mind that employees are protected. Safety directors can also keep a record of the types of footwear being purchased in case of an accident. In addition to order customization, additional discounts are sometimes offered for setting up web accounts or choosing to order online.

Don’t forget fit

While there are countless benefits to purchasing online, there are still some barriers managers must contend with. One of those is determining the fit of the footwear. The comfort and fit of a shoe is very important when most consumers are on their feet all day. Many online retailers have eliminated this issue by adopting a “free shipping, free returns” policy. This way, consumers don’t have to worry about the cost of sending a pair back that doesn’t fit quite right. Another presumed obstacle to buying online is computer access. Retailers are combating this by bringing a computer kiosk to the work site instead of the traditional shoemobile. They can then walk the consumer through the buying process, while they have access to the plentiful options available online.

The result of this transition of delivery of safety footwear to online is that consumers now have many more choices in both styling and cost, which, in turn, allows companies to continue to stretch their subsidy allowances. During these times, the cost savings from going online for safety footwear is an easy choice that more and more companies and consumers are choosing.