Workplace foot injuries are common in many industries. In fact, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2018 there were over 900,000 workplace injuries that resulted in days away from work; more than 10 percent of them were foot or ankle injuries.
If you’ve ever dealt with an injury in the workplace, you’re probably aware they can have extensive ramifications. From reduced employee morale and production delays to legal and regulatory headaches, there are many ways foot injuries can slow your team down. At scale, workplace injuries can be quite costly. One estimate by the National Safety Council puts the direct and indirect cost of work-related injuries and illnesses in the U.S. at $160 billion each year.
That’s why, as a safety professional, your top priority is ensuring a safe and productive environment for employees. While it’s difficult to anticipate and protect against every injury, outfitting employees with the proper footwear can go a long way toward reducing the frequency and severity of many injuries. Here are a few things to consider when looking for protective footwear.
» Understand the Work Environment
The first step in finding the proper footwear is understanding what you’re up against by determining what types of hazards workers are running into on a regular basis. Here are a few to look out for:
• Slips, trips and falls: Are the floors often covered in oil or other liquids that might increase the risk of slips or falls? Other examples of high-risk fall surfaces include polished concrete, slippery floor materials, stairs without no-slip treatments, uneven flooring and the uneven ground of a construction site.
• Common impact sources: Are there any objects in the work environment that pose a risk of falling or being dropped on workers’ feet? For example, tools on raised tables, tools used in a raised work site, large crates being lifted or other heavy materials being moved.
• Compression or rollover risk factors: Do workers interact with objects or terrain that might cause compression or rollover foot injuries? This could be motorized construction equipment, automated closing doors, pallet jacks or forklifts.
• Static dissipative causes: Are employees at risk of coming into contact with static charges from things like sensitive electronics or paint areas?
• Electrical hazards: Does the work environment contain objects that might cause electrical injuries such as exposed or aging wiring or electrical equipment?
• Puncture risks: Is there anything commonly found in the work environment, such as scrap metal, pallet nails or glass, that might puncture footwear and cause injury?
» The Perfect Fit
The best boot for the job only performs the way it was intended to if it fits properly. The right size and width of a work boot ensures all-day comfort and helps reduce the chance of jobsite injuries. A footwear company that properly trains all associates to understand how to fit for length and width while understanding feet come in many different shapes and sizes will ensure your employees are properly fitted for footwear.
By using a combination of traditional methods and technology, the unique size, shape, arch height and pressure points of each foot can be measured. This data is indispensable for getting a customized fit. It’s also important to look at gender-specific footwear design, because women and men’s feet are shaped differently. A footwear manufacturer should use gender-specific lasts when building footwear to ensure the best fit possible.
» Next-Generation Materials
As a result of wearing breathable materials outside of work, today’s workers expect work boots to be lightweight and not bulky while still meeting safety standards and featuring the latest performance attributes. Due to recent material advancements, lightweight footwear options that perform under the toughest conditions are becoming more common, allowing for comfort on and off the jobsite.
In addition, a work boot doesn’t need to always look like a traditional work boot. New low-profile products that look like stylish sneakers but include important features like toe protection are increasingly common. These options not only meet jobsite safety standards but allow for an easy transition from work to everyday activities.
» Accessorize for Comfort
When you think about footwear, it’s also important to think about other closely related items such as socks and footbeds. Socks are the main item to help manage moisture, regulate temperature and provide cushioning in key areas, keeping your feet dry and comfortable all day. It’s best to go with a sock that complements the footwear, uses premium materials and is carefully constructed.
Another accessory to consider is a footbed. Depending on the shape of a person’s foot, customized orthotic footbeds might be needed to ensure optimal comfort. If so, look for a durable footbed designed to fit the shape of your foot and the shape of the boot to ensure a snug but not bulky fit. Go with a footwear company that uses a digital scanner to access a foot’s pressure points in order to determine if a footbed is needed and if so, the best type for your foot.
» Shoe Care
It probably comes as no surprise, but countless hours in a variety of tough elements can take a toll on your footwear. And although high-quality footwear will last longer, a little maintenance goes a long way. Taking the time to properly clean, condition and protect one’s footwear can extend the life of the boot, saving time and money. Ask your footwear company or seek one out that provides shoe care kits along with lifetime tune-ups, cleaning and minor repairs to make it easy to keep work boots performing both on and off the jobsite.
Purpose-built footwear starts with quality materials and detailed craftsmanship, but a work boot will only keep workers safe if it fits properly, has the right safety features, is equipped with the proper accessories and is well-maintained. A good footwear company will act as a true partner and will guarantee your workers not only find proper footwear for the job, but a work boot that fits their lifestyle without sacrificing comfort or safety.
James Iwanski is director of industrial business at Red Wing Shoe Company. Learn more at redwingshoes.com.