Footwear: a shoestring approach?

The global industrial safety footwear market is set to generate $6 billion worth of sales by 2024. The construction industry continues to see highest consumption levels per industry and by 2024, over 110 million pairs could be registered, and $15.5 trillion spent, according to the industry report published on January 2017.

This means considerable investment for businesses, so when selecting safety footwear, it is vital to make the right choices from the outset.

The risk assessment process identifies hazards and potential risks in the working environment that your workers face. This could be increased chances of slips, trips, falls, cuts, punctures and risk of chemical splashes, abrasion and falling objects, and you should specify footwear to suit. Footwear selection should then be part of an ongoing assessment and monitoring process to ensure they remain the correct solution. 

The remits of a health and safety manager have increased in scope, with environmental and wellbeing responsibilities now incorporated into the job role.

It is even more important now to retain a focus on personal protection equipment (PPE) specification and selection and on the relevant standards. When undergoing any risk assessment where you will be specifying PPE, you must take the time to review the standards to ensure nothing has changed. If you don’t, you risk over or under specifying the required footwear.

There are instances where steel toe caps have been automatically specified even if a non-slip sole is the correct protection for the risk. To be absolutely certain the products you are buying meet the correct standards, you should ask to see the supporting documentation and certification.

Back to basics

ISO 20345:2011 specifies basic and optional additional requirements for general purpose safety footwear.  Requirements include a 200J toecap, and other properties may include:

P – penetration resistance

A – antistatic

HI – insulating against heat

CI – insulating against cold

E – energy absorbing seat region

WRU – uppers resistant to water penetration / absorption

HRO – outsole resistant to hot contact

The SB, S1, S2 and S3 ratings within this standard demonstrate additional safety elements that the boot has:

SB – basic requirements for safety footwear met

S1 – basic requirements plus closed and energy absorbing seat region, and antistatic

S2 – as S1, plus water penetration and absorption

S3 – as S2, plus penetration resistance and cleated sole.

Take appropriate time to think about the elements your workforce really needs.

Slip resistance

Slip resistant footwear is crucial for many employers as it can be the only way to reduce the risk of slips to an appropriate level. Depending on the test conditions chosen, footwear tested per the EN standards is marked with one of the following codes, SRA, SRB, and SRC.

The codes indicate the footwear has met the specified requirements when tested as follows:

SRA – tested on ceramic tile wetted with dilute soap solution

SRB – tested on smooth steel with glycerol

SRC – tested under both the above conditions.

Thinking beyond the standards

Understanding what the standards and grades mean and applying them to the specific scenario you are conducting a risk assessment in, should only form part of the footwear selection process. Requesting relevant product certification to support the claims the footwear makes is crucial too. Basic knowledge on the other qualities that matter in footwear also helps to understand what will, or will not, ultimately work for employees.

Uppers, the part or parts of the shoe that cover the top, sides, back and toes of the foot, should be made from the appropriate leather or breathable material. This keeps feet cool when working hard and also can conform easier to the shape of individual feet. Arch support systems can help to prevent footwear issues developing in the first place, for people with flat feet, it helps to prevent long term wear of the tendons. The toe area should also be deep enough to prevent rubbing, giving the toes room to move around. Protective toecaps should not be felt; if they are, they are too tight. These are just some of the basic elements that you must consider. 

The importance of footwear as a core element of protection should never be underestimated – both in preventing injury but also future ill-health problems. The footwear specification process is not one dimensional – in fact, to get it absolutely right, it’s quite the opposite.

Simon Ash is UK sales manager at HAIX