Published: 01st Apr 2009
Protection and comfort, beyond safety standards
Feet have a tough job to do in working life, a fact that is overlooked all too often. Prolonged standing, walking, climbing, handling heavy machinery, falling objects, and slippery or sharp surfaces are just some of the many workplace hazards that feet may be exposed to on a daily basis. According to Health and Safety Executive (HSE) statistics, slips and trips account for the highest number of work-related major injuries across all industry sectors, while TUC figures show that over two million sick days are lost every year owing to lower limb disorders.
Over a thousand people suffer serious injuries every month as a result of slips, trips or falls in the workplace. That’s 12,000 injuries per annum, with their resulting pain, disability and time off work that could be avoided completely by means of sensible actions and precautions, such as keeping floors clean and dry, and providing appropriate safety footwear.
And it isn’t just feet that may be affected by inadequate or badly fitting footwear. Many musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) can be traced back to prolonged standing, which can damage joints around feet, legs, knees, hips and lower back and fatigue the worker, not to mention wrist, ankle and other problems caused by falls.
Although the HSE reports that the number of over-three-day slip and trip incidents has fallen since 2002, the overall number of major injuries has remained much the same, although varying considerably by industry and occupation. Higher risk industries include construction, public administration, postal services and food manufacturing.
Causes of slips and trips
The places that look clean and tidy can often be the ones with the most potential for slip and trips. Wet floors are a common cause, and many modern factories, in an attempt to create a nice, clean environment for people to work in, tend to concrete the floors and paint them, but this can cause slip issues. Ironically, sometimes the most dangerous environments can be the safest ones, as people are more aware of the potential hazards and will pay more attention to them.
One of the best ways to avoid slips is positive housekeeping, such as keeping the floors clean, avoiding spills and keeping the gangways clear of obstructions. Sometimes special flooring may need to be fitted if it is not possible to keep floors clean and dry.
Employers have a legal duty to safeguard their employees and remove or reduce risks to their health and safety under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999.
In addition, under the Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) at Work Regulations 1999, workers should be able to wear the footwear that is appropriate to their occupation, working environment, and feet. This means employers should ensure that the risk assessment they have to do by law includes risks to the feet as well as slipping risks, and if safety or special footwear is required they must supply it at no cost to the worker.
If a risk has been identified and cannot be controlled in any other way, then protective equipment including footwear with slip-resistant properties must be provided free of charge, with attendant instructions on how to use it safely.
Manufacturers and suppliers for their part have a legal duty to provide accurate descriptions of their products. They play a key role in ensuring that suitable products are available and that product information provided to procurers is sufficient to enable them to make the right choices.
The HSE and the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) conducted two sets of joint research into IOSH members’ views on the issue of slips and trips in 2006 and 2007. These studies found that:
- Slips and trips are a priority area in most members’ organisations
- Eight out of 10 members felt that their organisations were committed to tackling the issue, but
- Only 13% felt that their organisations were fully effective at controlling the slip and trip risk
- Less than one in ten felt that good practice was always implemented in their workplaces and that workers were fully committed to co-operating to reduce risks.
The HSE and manufacturers
The HSE’s ongoing Slips and Trips Programme, which aims to cut the number of fatal and major injury accidents caused by slips and trips by 10% by 2010, is currently reviewing the role played by slip-resistant footwear in their prevention, to identify what more needs to be done by the industry and regulators. In addition, its ‘Shattered Lives’ campaign aims to raise awareness of the devastating consequences of slips, trips and falls in the workplace on individuals and their families.
With this in mind, the HSE visited several leading manufacturers and suppliers of safety footwear last year to discuss ways in which it could work with them to ensure that procurers of slip-resistant footwear had access to the best possible information to help them choose the most suitable products. The HSE has researched the top 50 pairs of footwear in the market, tested them in their laboratory for slip resistance and published the results.
Among areas discussed by the HSE and manufacturers were the demand for slip-resistant footwear, feedback from customers, and the provision of information for users.
At uvex we are seeing a markedly increased demand for, and awareness of, safety footwear, which has been enhanced by the time and effort the HSE has put into its campaign to raise the profile of slips, trips and falls, which are now very much on people’s radar. We are receiving more enquiries on a daily basis seeking guidance on how our products work in different environments across the board, and particularly from the offshore oil and gas industry, utilities, food and manufacturing, as these sectors try to continually improve their performance.
There is a lot more information available on the slip resistance and coefficient of friction - a number which represents the friction between two surfaces - test results on safety footwear. Manufacturers are now starting to issue the slip results of their products, so procurers can compare them against other manufacturers.
We try to explain which products are the most suitable within the standards that our customers specify via our website, brochures and catalogues. We have defined product by heavy industry, light industry, sport and specialist requirements and provide information to narrow down the selection process. Each product comes with the relevant standard and icons that indicate to the procurer the features it includes. The information is there, but individuals are not necessarily experts in footwear, so guidance from the manufacturer is useful.
It is sometimes frustrating for suppliers that many people do not consider safety footwear to be a technical matter. Most of the questions we are asked are about styles and looks, rather than the impact/slip resistance or other safety related tests we have performed, for example.
Although the HSE’s campaign has stimulated a lot of good conversation on the subject, it is not necessarily easy to obtain the slip-resistance effectiveness of a product based solely on a laboratory test. Usage trials need to be carried out in a variety of actual working environments. The HSE has issued results of various products tested in a laboratory environment that do try to replicate industry, but there is no substitute for using those products in the actual place where they will be worn and where the issues arise.
A footwear product should not be judged on its slip-resistance test results alone. For example, in the catering/food industry, where the best anti-slip footwear for clean wet surfaces is needed, the optimum performance will come from a soft sole compound that has plenty of cleats on the base. However, in a factory, where there may also be slippery wet floors in addition to some form of contamination, the same shoe may not be as suitable, because such a sole could gather contamination, which can cause issues itself and they can also be prone to wear quickly due to the soft material needed to attain the slip resistance.
We support everything the HSE is trying to do. It does listen and communicate with manufacturers to try and get optimum solutions, but the best way of getting the correct environment is through consultation between manufacturers and suppliers and the people who will be using the product. The HSE agrees with this approach, but it is not always possible for manufacturers to get into every business that has a requirement for a slip-resistant product.
Feedback and development
On a positive note, our customers are increasingly asking questions. There is no such thing as a stupid question where people’s health and safety is concerned - any question is a good question if it improves safety.
Customers are encouraged to try our products before they buy them. To obtain feedback from our users in factories or companies with slip-resistance issues, we will visit the area where the product will be used, looking at the different types of contamination and the issues workers are facing, and put forward reasonable solutions for the situation. We then instigate a trial process, giving the individual the product we think is appropriate, and get them to try the footwear for four to six weeks before they buy it for the rest of their employees. The customer provides feedback via trial evaluation forms and we provide them with a report issuing the findings of the trials.
We take the feedback on what they need from users in their workplace environments to our R &D people and try and develop products in conjunction with the users once we have reviewed any necessary changes. It is a never-ending circle. It’s only on very rare occasions that you can meet everyone’s requirements with one product. Nothing is perfect as working conditions are so variable.
Improved slip-resistant products are currently coming onto the market because of recent changes in European test standards. These mean that manufacturers have to mark all newly certified models from December 2007 with the relevant standards that they conform to. The safety features of footwear, including slip resistance, are tested according to a set of standards written into EN ISO 20344. The performance specifications for safety footwear are given in an associated set of PPE standards, EN ISO 20345. The manufacturer has to prove slip resistance performance through testing using European standard BS EN ISO 13287. Depending on the test conditions chosen, footwear tested according to the EN standards is now marked with one of the following codes, SRA, SRB, or SRC. The codes indicate that the footwear has met the specified requirements when tested on wet ceramic tiles with sodium lauryl sulfate solution (SRA), steel with glycerol (SRB), and under both conditions (SRC).
A risk assessment of the workplace environment is the first step in selecting appropriate safety footwear. From there, you can define what you are protecting against and the level of protection you need. There are three elements to the purchasing of any PPE, and three different people who need to be satisfied. First, the safety officer will be concerned about the safety of the product. Second, the user must have comfortable, appropriately-designed and properly fitted footwear that they are happy to wear. Third, the buyer needs to be happy he is getting good value for money.
It is a case of getting the right product that will last in the right environment. Sometimes you can choose an inexpensive product that the user will be happy with that is not man enough to do the job it is needed for. The basic components of safety footwear are: safety toe cap, shaft (upper part of shoe), heel cap, footbed, insole and sole. We quite often come across people using a polyurethane (Pu) sole which gives heat resistance up to 120°C, but Pu will melt in a very hot environment. A simple switch to a rubber outsole that gives heat resistance up to 300°C could increase value for money, increase safety and still be suitable for the wearer. Value for money is not necessarily about the cost of the product, it’s about cost in use.
Safety footwear fulfils a multitude of roles. It is not only about the impact on the toecap, but much more about its other functions. The tread pattern can protect against slipping, the type of material under the foot can protect from heat and cuts, and good safety footwear that incorporates shock absorbing elements can help prevent MSDs if people are working for a lot of hours on their feet.
The foot produces a lot of moisture, so breathability and hygiene are important, especially if an individual is working for long periods of time when the foot could become hot and damp, so the product needs to keep the foot dry.
To maximise safety and efficiency, safety footwear has to be worn, so the wearer must be willing to wear it. It sounds obvious, but the company involved should provide the people who must wear safety footwear with an appropriate product. Footwear is quite an emotive subject - if you are expected to wear a product for 8 hours or more a day you want it to be comfortable, meet the relevant safety standards, and also look reasonable. Looks should not define what people wear but they do. Comfort is a big factor - 8 hours a day in a pair of shoes that are killing you is not ideal. Comfort may be defined as the absence of discomfort, so you just get on with the job.
Horses for courses
No one type of safety footwear meets all requirements. There are different toecap materials available, for example steel, aluminium and non-metallic toecaps. Non-metallic’s tend to be used in environments where there are security machines in operations, such as at airports and ports, or in for example the manufacturing of sim cards for mobile phones so that the chips cannot be stolen. All ISO EN 20 345 toecaps meet the same standards so it’s not fair to say one is better than the other, it depends upon the particular environment in which it is being used. Plastics were brought in to try to reduce the weight of the product and because of heat. If you are working outside on a construction site, a metal toecap will retain the cold, whereas a plastic is unlikely to be influenced by the ambient temperature - this is one of the reasons they are popular.
Different qualities of leather available, from basic to high quality. The performance of leather can depend on what you want to pay for it, but poor quality leather will often allow moisture into the shoe.
In summary, individuals are different. Everyone has their own idea of what is fashionable, so it’s always useful to have a selection of safety footwear all of which meets the relevant standards.
For more information on Safety Footwear click here http://www.osedirectory.com/product.php?type=health&product_id=18
Published: 01st Apr 2009 in Health and Safety International