Did you know about the 5 Step Safety Shoe Check before purchasing new safety footwear?!
A study by Marr & Quine (1993) many years ago about 321 surveyed workers revealed their major complaints about their safety footwear were that they were too hot, the insole wasn’t flexible, too heavy and the steel cap put too much pressure on the toes.
I have been focused and passionate about caring for workers who wear safety footwear. I’ve said many times verbally and written that this type of work I regard as an endurance sport. I have encountered many safety shoe wearers and I am confident on my unofficial survey that incorrect footwear fitting and selection is a one of the major causes of foot pain. Although the workplace conditions, labour and activity certainly contribute to lower limb and foot pain, I would like to focus on providing advice on how to choose and buy safety footwear.
BACKGROUND OF SAFETY FOOTWEAR
Safety footwear undergo vigourous assessment and testing so that they can be approved under a country’s safety standards. Safety shoes go under certain Australia and New Zealand’s safety standards such as AS/NZS2210.3, AS/NZS2210.4, AS/NZS2210.5 and EN – ISO 20345 (Class I S1 SRC)
Safety shoes standards and information are marked on the tongue (which is the ‘metatarsal guard’ – the loose material that protects the top of your foot) and must have the size, manufacturer’s information, date of manufacturer, approved standard number and year. The extent of testing and assessment covers the following components
- Metatarsal guard
- Penetration resistant midsole
- Conductive footwear
- Electrically insulating
- Water resistance, penetration and absorption
- Ankle protection
- Cut resistance
- Heat insulation and resistance
- Cold insulation
- Heel energy absorption
- Slip resistant on ceramic tiles (SRA)
- Slip resistant on steel (SRB)
- Slip resistant on both ceramic tiles and steel (SRC)
Not all footwear undergo every test above as they are all tested based on the requirement of the workplace. That’s why there are 3 common types of safety footwear which are occupational, protective and safety. Occupational generally covers non-slip properties and are usually preferred for hospitality and retail while safety involves protective toe caps.
It’s a whole lot of testing to be done on these shoes. I wonder if you knew this.
5 THINGS TO CHECK
- SAFETY REQUIREMENTS
I’ve found many people don’t realise this step but it’s the most important. What’s the point of safety shoes when you haven’t clarified what is required to wear to keep you safe? Of course, it’s a legal requirement.
Consult your Occupational Health and Safety officer and clarify the standards and level of safety that they require you to have to operate on the worksite or workplace. People working with oil, electrical, forklifts, pallets, concrete, stock, parcels and roofing all have different safety requirements. You must have their requirements confirmed before looking for boots.
You will find on the tongue of the shoe, the size, the manufacturer’s identification and designation, manufacture date and approved standard number and year. This is the most vital step!
- INSOLE FIT
We usual do the finger space test when trying on regular footwear such as joggers and oxfords by pressing down at the toe box to feel wear your toes are. If the shoe has a solid safety toecap, you can’t press your finger at the toebox to make sure a fit, you must take the insole out, stand on it and have a rep check that there should be a 12-15mm gap or a thumb gap from the end of insole to your longest toe. By having this done right, it’ll mean that your toes won’t be impacting the safety toecap which does cause many common toe problems such as ingrown and bruised nails.
A vital tip! When trialling new safety footwear, please try them on with your regular work socks because some workers enjoy wearing thicker cotton socks for padding which adds more bulk to your foot.
- SHOE WIDTH
If you notice that your foot is causing a stretch, that is if your foot is hanging over the midsole then a different style of boot is required. If your foot is tight but the whole foot is sitting on the midsole (with no overhanging sides of the feet) without the stretch then a half-size larger is needed.
- FLEX FIT
Put the boot on and flex the toes on the ground, where the toebox or the nose of the shoe has it’s bending angle – this is called the flex point. The ball of your foot should be positioned over the flex point. Having a boot that’s too rigid and little flex point will stop you from walking comfortably. This would mean you have to compensate and apply additional muscle recruitment to get the basic movement of walking!
- SHOE DEPTH
Safety footwear should not feel tight over top of the foot. You can either feel this is too tight with the metatarsal guard/tongue and laces putting too much pressure on the top of the foot. If this is the case then you may need to go up a half-size larger
The shoe should not feel too loose over the top of the foot. If you can lace the boot with the gap between the laces close together then you’ve gone a size too big or the style is too deep. Find a different one style.
There are certainly more factors to consider such as temperature, weight and height of the footwear but that’s the matter of your shoe rep or guide to advise you of the different material weight and properties before you buy. Certainly the introduction of composite and fibreglass toecaps has made safety footwear much lighter. But remember golden step 1 – ask your Occupational Health and Safety officer what is required of the workplace!
If you’re a company and business that requires your employees to wear safety footwear and you would like to discuss a Podiatrist workplace assessment and health and wellness programs, please fill out the contact form below and we will respond promptly. I look forward to working with you.
Walk safe and smarter, not harder.
Marr. S.J., Quine, S. (1993) Shoe concerns and foot problems of wearers of safety footwear. Occup Med (Lond), 43(2) : 73-77.