Many years ago, it really didn’t matter how safety footwear looked. So long as it was rugged, durable and could meet the required safety specifications to protect the user, the appearance didn’t really matter. The major consideration was to protect the feet from falling objects, sharp and piercing objects and other hazards in the work environment.
This is not the case anymore. In today’s world, where fashion and style play an increasingly important role in the way we look and feel, more and more workers have higher expectations of how their safety footwear should look and feel while not compromising on safety standards.
This has brought in a whole new dimension to the way workers dress for work. They now see safety footwear as not only a means of protection but also a means to define their individual style. What this means is that a worker with more fashionable footwear will form a bond to the personal protective equipment (PPE) that best defines them.
This bond makes the user feel unique and puts an extra bounce in their step/ enthusiasm for work. For example, workers have favourite colours, while others may wish to have a mixture of two or three colours in their footwear. The point here is that workers want to feel good and look good at work in addition to feeling comfortable with what they wear.
Creating the reality
This now puts a lot of demands on the technology put into the footwear manufacturing process. It is a good thing that some top fashion designers have branched into the manufacturing of unique footwear and are making inroads to satisfying their customers.
Some factors to be considered in this new generation safety footwear include:
• Grip and balance
• Ease of wearing and removing
• High viz strips
• Safety standards and specifications
More than ever before, It is necessary for manufacturers of safety footwear to step up their game in the production of footwear designed to catch the attention of their consumers, while still not compromising on safety. The safety footwear business is a multimillion dollar industry globally, and there is a lot of money to be made for the key players.
A lot of effort is channelled into research and development and also new technologies to improve the eight factors outlined earlier, which double as some of the criteria to be considered in your purchase decision making.
The right combination of some of these factors all rolled into one seems to be the new direction.
Additionally, workers now seem to see safety footwear as part of the dress code for use even outside the work environment, and may wear it to functions such as social events, and even while meeting up with colleagues during lunch breaks outside the office.
I fondly remember my younger days as an HSE professional with colleagues and friends in the oil and gas industry. It was very interesting to note that the kind of safety footwear we all wore from our different companies when we met during break periods, or after work hours, was seen as a thing of prestige. At the time, the quality of safety footwear showed whether or not our individual companies were prosperous and the kind of safety culture they had. The individuals with the best safety footwear were very proud to wear it, and conscious of the value their company attached to their safety and protection.
In the workplace I have observed a great interest in examining and possibly using high tech and fashionable PPE, including footwear. Accessories that improve fitting, comfort, looks and durability are taken very seriously and a good number of the workforce look forward to replacing existing safety footwear for more fashionable styles.
This welcome development ensures that the workers not only look forward to owning these items but to using them as well. As a result, safety compliance is achieved with greater ease and the site safety officer does not have to worry too much about PPE adherence and can focus on other important site matters.
It is also true to say that the better the PPE, the happier and more confident the workers are on site. It is not true that workers see HSE compliance as a pain. In my opinion, if HSE compliance – especially for PPE – is seen as a lifestyle that seamlessly blends into the workforce in terms of how they want to look and feel while at work, safety can be embedded into this to drive compliance. For example, safety sneakers look more trendy than some other conventional work boots or shoes, and are now preferred for use at work because there are more appealing styles to choose from.
Seemingly pull up boots and laced boots have rivals now in strap safety footwear and those with zippers. For some, the latter is easier to wear and remove, and seems to add some fashion and style to the equation too.
Fashionable safety footwear in no small measure has boosted thesafety culture in some organisations, with more people complying with its use for longer periods of time of their own volition. This ultimately translates to better safety performance through compliance to regulatory and corporate management objectives.
As we are aware, there is a direct link between good safety practises and achieving profitability in any organisation. Fewer injuries mean less litigation and less loss time to injuries, which leads to lower medical bills, reduced insurance premiums and of course higher worker morale. These are just a few of the benefits.
This means that the importance of safety as a business objective has taken the front seat in corporate decision making. The right choice of PPE is a key factor in ensuring the workplace achieves operational goals safely.
This is more so when you consider the fact that PPE is the last line of defence when all other control measures have been put in place to reduce workplace risks. As outlined in the hierarchy of hazard controls, elimination, substitution, engineering controls, administration controls all come before personal protective equipment is used to mitigate any residual risk.
It would be good to one day reach a point where workplaces are completely accident free, but until then, PPE will always be necessary as a last resort. It doesn’t matter how safe we believe our worksites are, we never know what might happen and should be prepared.
Choosing the right safety footwear is therefore one of the most important business decisions for consideration.
The following sections will briefly look at the eight factors that can influence choice.
One of the most important factors in choosing safety footwear is its weight. Well of course steel toes/plates and the materials used for the sole and upper body are all contributory factors, but I believe that the lighter the footwear, the more enjoyable it is to wear. Heavy safety shoes can drag the user’s movement and may slow movement and maneuverability, especially in emergency situations. Except for clear comfort or safety reasons that may encourage heavier footwear, the fashionable worker is most likely to opt for lighter footwear.
Balance and grip
For a worker on site, balance in movement during delicate work operations cannot be over emphasised. Balance is everything. This is because if balance is lost, the worker is put in a position where slips, trips and falls are almost inevitable, especially while moving across slippery surfaces, during climbing operations and while moving or using equipment.
Good footwear design needs to consider materials and design concepts that will encourage good balance for the user, especially with consideration to the weight, size and height of the worker. A worker will use safety footwear for much longer periods if it affords good balance. The grip of safety footwear can additionally play a major role in choice. A good grip prevents slips, trips and falls. Poorly designed sole teeth do not make for confidence in the user, as skidding may occur in wet or slippery environments. Also during climbing operations, footwear with a good grip further encourages safety and reliability in preventing an incident.
Ease of wearing and removing
One of the best attributes good safety footwear can have is the ease with which it can be put on or removed. There is a wide variety of safety footwear with some stopping at ankle length and others going as far as the knees. It is important to have an easy way of wearing and removing footwear. Some is laced, pulled up, slipped on, strapped or with employs a zipper. The easiest means should be considered during design to bring little or no stress to the user.
High viz strips
Safety footwear with high viz reflector strips – especially when working at night – provides additional measures to keep the worksite accident free. Some workers in the office may not necessarily wear high viz coveralls but may need to be spotted in the event of a black out, or when walking at night. Of course to some it may seem unnecessary since most of our coveralls already have this feature, but there is a necessity for high viz strips on shoes to help keep a worker safe.
The colours of safety footwear are now more important than ever before. Workers are human beings who of course have favourite colours. Imagine the possibility of choosing your favourite colour. This enhances footwear acceptance and its value in the eyes of the user. Some may even prefer a combination of colours for their footwear to match their coveralls, helmet, eye goggles, or possibly a pair of jeans and shirt after work if the user decides to wear them off site.
Safety standards and specifications
Every safety item or piece of equipment must have a safety standard or specification meeting industry requirements; for example, ASTM standard test methods for foot protection, standard specification for performance requirements for foot protection, American National Standard for Personal Protection-Protective Footwear or ISO 20345:2004. This is the primary criteria for any safety footwear and cannot be compromised on account of fashion or comfort.
Simply put, durability is the ability to endure or withstand wear and tear, especially in the most adverse weather conditions. Depending on the nature of work and requirements, it is necessary to consider if the safety footwear is waterproof, dust resistant, fire resistant, rust proof, thermal or impact resistant. How long it can last under the most stressful conditions is also worth evaluating. The more of these qualities the safety footwear can boast, the more attractive it is to the purchaser. These qualities to a large extent are the guarantees not just for safety but for the longevity of the footwear’s use.
After safety, the cost of safety footwear is probably the most important consideration, and the various elements of the fashionable safety footwear listed previously may not come cheap. Of course if materials can be used to achieve safety, durability and comfort considerations but are still affordable, that may just be the clincher for the buyer – we all want quality at a good price.
To drive HSE compliance and to ensure a more productive and safe workforce, safety footwear manufacturers should do more to interface with the workforce, and gain feedback that will inform the designs of their future lines. Going forward, technology should imbibe fashion, durability, and safety to ensure workforce compliance with regulations. There should be a point where footwear can look good and feel safer – and the cost of this should be made affordable.
Published: 26th Feb 2014 in Health and Safety Middle East