There are literally thousands of safety footwear products on the market, it can therefore be very tricky deciding how to choose safety footwear for yourself or your employees.
Here is a detailed breakdown of what are the key considerations when making your choice
The first consideration is to take into account and conform to relevant law. The two main parts of legislation that concern safety footwear at work are:
Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 The Management Regulations require employers to identify and assess risks to health and safety in order to determine appropriate means of reducing those risks to an acceptable level. A risk assessment can establish the need for safety footwear, and what the requirements are for the workplace you are buying for.
Personal Protective Equipment at Work Regulations 1992
These Regulations seek to ensure that where risks cannot be adequately controlled by other means, Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is correctly selected and used.
Performing a safety footwear risk assessment
Before selecting safety footwear, you should refer to an existing risk assessment for the workplace, or, carry one out if one does not already exist.
One of the first steps of the risk assessment will be to identify the hazards present. Hazards may include:
- wet conditions
- electrostatic build-up
- cuts and punctures
- falling objects
- metal and chemical splash
A clear picture of the hazards will then guide the type and level of safety footwear protection (the “control measure”)
|Falling objects||Toe cap protection – steel or composite|
|Sharp objects/sole penetration||Midsole protection|
|Metatarsal injury/crush risk||Metatarsal protector|
|Slippery surfaces||Non-slip sole|
|Molten metal||Foundry boots; calf protection|
|Biohazards||Easy-clean, machine washable|
|Wet/damp conditions||Safety wellingtons|
Risk Assessment – User Considerations
As well as the workplace hazards the risk assessment should also consider the user. Relevant questions will include
Is the employee on their feet for long hours?
Does the employee have any health concerns relevant to the safety footwear required; eg diabetes, plantar fasciitis, etc?
Does the user have particularly wide feet?
Once the type of footwear has been established the purchaser should then ensure the footwear is made to the relevant standard.
The EN Standards
The quickest way to make sure any piece of footwear satisfies the “essential requirements” to protect workers as set out in the PPE Regulations is to be sure it is certified to the relevant EN standards. Refer to our safety standards for footwear guide for a complete guide .
Ensure any safety footwear you buy is ‘CE’ marked. This signifies that the footwear has been tested and certified that it meets the relevant EN standard
Comfort and Convenience
A further consideration for choosing safety footwear is the Comfort and convenience of the wearer. Footwear factors affecting comfort & convenience include:
Upper – should be made from natural materials such as leather or a breathable man-made fabric. Some leather has a plastic coating to repel water and allow the shoe to be wiped clean.
Lining – should be a breathable material to keep the foot fresh. Linings need to be smooth and seam-free.
Toe area – should be foot-shaped and deep enough to prevent rubbing and allow the toes to wriggle. This is especially important with protective toecaps. If the shoes are padded and fitted properly, you should not be able to feel the toecaps at all.
Insole – should preferably be removable to allow easy insertion of padding or orthotics
Heel ﬁt – the heel should fit snugly on the foot, stopping the heel slipping out of the shoe and stabilising the foot upon ground contact.
Heel – should have a broad base and be no higher than 4cm. If worn for long stretches they should be no more than 2cm in height.
Sole – should be strong and flexible with shock absorption to cushion the jolts of walking on hard surfaces.
Fastenings – Laces, zips or slip-on depending on the requirement and the frequency of changes.
Footwear is worn for many hours each day, and so must offer comfort as well as safety; the fit must be right to ensure both.
For company managers, consultation with those wearing the PPE is crucial to make sure the correct PPE is chosen and that it is used and maintained properly.
Involving the end-users with regard to fit, comfort and wearability is likely to lead to better levels of user acceptance and therefore better protection.
Style and aesthetics
This may be of lesser concern to company buyers but possibly of quite high priority to the end user who wants to look good whilst at work. The days of only being able to get a black steel-toe chukka boot are long gone. There are a multitude of type and style options to choose from, some of which are listed below.
Safety footwear types
Some of the range of types and styles include:
The most common type of safety footwear, incorporating protective toe-caps with many other safety features including slip-resistant soles, penetration-resistant mid-soles and insulation against extremes of heat and cold.
Safety hiker boots
Similar to a trainer but with ankle coverage. The hiker is a popular style due to its comfort and being lightweight
A security/military style higher leg boot with toe-cap
Popular for supervisors and managers who still need foot protection
Perhaps considered more aesthetically appealing by wearers, these look more casual. Some have steel toe caps while others are plastic – referred to as composite toe caps
A recent trend. Not really a boot and not really a trainer..its a Sneaker!
A rigger boot is a particular type of pull-on safety boot. The name “rigger” comes from the fact that they were standard issue for workers on the offshore oil rigs in the North Sea, but are nowadays worn by most types of manual worker as a general purpose work boot.
A slip-on boot that is ankle height
Usually made of rubber and used for working in very wet conditions, these are also useful in jobs where the footwear needs to be washed and disinfected for hygiene reasons, eg in the food and the chemical industries.
Safety footwear in smaller sizes for women in a range of styles (boot, shoe, trainer) with the required key features such as steel toe caps, heat resistant midsoles and oil repellent soles
Many well known brands have also now added safety footwear to their product portfolios including Dr Martens, Timberland, CAT, Skechers to name a few. The choice to buy a well known more expensive brand will be purely down to perception of quality v cost.