OHS Canada Magazine

Best practices in selecting new safety footwear


February 22, 2022
By Robin Skillings

Health & Safety Occupational Hygiene Foot Protection Work boots

When the time comes to purchase a new pair of boots, there are a lot of factors to consider. (Photo courtesy of KEEN Utility)

No one likes saying goodbye to a favourite pair of work boots.

However, when it comes to maintaining foot health and preventing injuries on the jobsite, knowing when it’s time to replace your boots and taking the time to select the right safety footwear can be critical.

There are a few key indicators to know when it is time to replace boots.

Showing cracks and holes or clearly falling apart at the seams are the primary ones, but there are some “unseen” indicators to look out for as well. For example, while some amount of flexibility is useful, an overly pliable boot signals that structural rigidity might be compromised.

Additionally, if the protective toe cap in your boot is damaged, it must be replaced. This is true even for composite toe caps that do not appear visibly dented like steel or aluminum after taking a blow because there is the possibility that micro-cracks have developed.

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Finally, delamination of the outsole occurs when the cement construction wears out due to either the age of the glue or exposure to caustic materials.

What to look for in new safety footwear

When the time comes to purchase a new pair of boots, there are a lot of factors to consider.

Different worksites demand different safety requirements from personal protective equipment, including footwear. As a result, it can often feel overwhelming to select a boot that not only meets the necessary safety criteria, but also offers performance and comfort features for success over the course of a long day of work.

With this in mind, when choosing a new work boot, it is important to keep a few factors in mind:

Slip resistance: There are specific dangers at every jobsite. However, according to Ontario’s Workplace Safety and Prevention Services, one in five lost-time injuries result from falls. Slip-resistant outsoles minimize this risk through dispersing liquid quickly and providing increased surface area and better overall traction. Shoppers should review technical features for safety footwear they are considering and look to shoes that list abrasion, oil and slip resistance. In Canada, CSA certification requires the labeling of slip-resistance performance data on all safety footwear claiming to be slip resistant, so be sure to review the boot’s box and label or find the brand’s website to be sure.

Toe selection: In certain trade professions, footwear with a safety toe cap is required. However, not all safety toes are the same, so it is essential to select the correct toe-cap type for the job at hand. A majority of safety toes are made of materials such as steel or aluminum, however there are new material innovations when it comes to protective toe caps. The latest safety cap to hit the market are carbon-fibre toes, which are 15 per cent lighter than steel. In addition to providing newfound mobility, when you spend all day on your feet, this reduction in weight adds up. As an added benefit, carbon-fibre toes are non metallic, which is beneficial for workers who may have to pass through metal detectors throughout the workday. At my company, safety toes are designed to be asymmetrical, allowing for a roomier and less obtrusive fit that contours the natural shape of the foot and enables all toes and the feet to flex more naturally.

Individualized safety features: Every job has its own unique needs. It is essential to find a work shoe that corresponds with the criteria of the specific job at hand in order to maximize protection. This could include anything from abrasion resistant outsoles for worksites where water, grease or any other liquids are common to Kevlar fibre for resistance against open flames. Whatever presents potential danger at a jobsite, there are likely boots offering the necessary safety features to protect against them.

In Canada, new workers must ensure their boots are CSA certified for the jobsite. A critical component in Canada is puncture resistance, which helps prevent sharp objects, such as nails, from piercing through the outsole, causing injury to the foot. When you can trust each step, it makes a significant difference in terms of reducing and preventing accidents on the jobsite. To this end, CSA-certified boots must include a protective layer in the boot’s midsole to provide underfoot protection. While these puncture-resistant layers were once traditionally made of steel, material advances, including high-tensile strength woven fabrics, offer very lightweight, flexible and non-metallic options to protect from puncture underneath the foot.

The right fit: Workers should be mindful of the time of day and what they are wearing when trying on and shopping for new boots. To ensure the best fit, we recommend wearing the socks worn while working. And, since feet naturally swell throughout the day, it is also important to try on new shoes at the end of a shift when feet are at their largest.

Presenting the best foot forward

Additionally, proper fit extends beyond the correct size, specifically with regards women. Since the anatomy of women’s feet differ from men’s, it is important to find a shoe designed for a woman’s foot rather than a men’s shoe that has simply been “shrunk down” to a women’s size.

At my company, we created a tradeswomen-tested program to work with real professional women within a variety of trades who provide feedback on fit and performance of our products from initial concept all the way to product release, which we incorporate to improve future designs.

Every woman deserves to be outfitted on the job with safe and comfortable PPE. That includes access to better fitting, capable, and durable footwear.

Whether it is looking for indicators of wear in an old pair of boots or shopping for new ones, it is important for workers to also pay attention to their own feet.

Health indicators such as sore feet, cramps or blisters, are all signs boots may be worn out or not the best match. While safety and performance features are essential, you will still be wearing these boots all day, so do not overlook comfort.

Boots should offer solid support. Aches or pains in the legs, back or neck could be indications to start shopping for a new pair. Footwear companies are constantly innovating to provide improved performance, underfoot support, and to extend the life of work boots.

Robin Skillings is the VP & Global GM at KEEN Utility in Portland, Ore.

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