On average a person takes 7,500 steps a day – which means if you live for 80 years you will take 216,262,500 steps. This means that your feet do some serious work, so taking measures to protect your feet seems like a sensible thing to do.
But, how should businesses do this, what should employees be looking out for and what options are out there and available? All of these are questions we are going to explore, so by the end of this you’ll know your 200 joule protection toe cap resistance tests from your water penetration prevention, and how you can go about selecting the right footwear for your workers, or for yourself.
Anyone who read my last article of “Above the Neck Protection” will already be familiar with the hierarchy of controls and the concept of ‘consider, consult, choose’ (if you’ve not read it then you should check it out: https://www.hsimagazine.com/article/protection-above-the-neck/) so I won’t go into the hierarchy in huge depth, but the process for this remains the same.
For the rest of this article, I will use the ‘consider, consult, choose’ model and show how this can be applied to the selection of protective footwear and what needs to happen at each stage.
Part 1: Consider
The first step is to decide if safety footwear is needed. To do this you should carry out a risk assessment. Please don’t think that if you are self-employed or have fewer than five employees you don’t need to risk assess – the requirement is only to record your significant findings if you have five or more employees, but you still need to do it regardless of the number of people you employ. This risk assessment should consider who is at risk, what they are at risk from and what steps can be taken to reduce that risk.
Jumping back to the hierarchy of controls we can see that PPE is the last control in place, which is where our safety footwear comes into play. Having said that, it is important that we issue PPE to manage any residual risk (risk that remains once all other controls are in place). This risk assessment should consider the types of PPE that we need.
I should be clear that the whole risk assessment process will highlight more than just a need for safety footwear, but we are going to focus on safety footwear and where this fits into the bigger picture. Look at the task being carried out and the injury’s that can be sustained. Above are some examples of the different types of safety footwear, where they may be appropriately used and why this may be the case.
These are just some examples. You will need to think about the work being carried out and the type of safety footwear that you need. Of course, this means you need to know what is available! In the UK there are six main ratings which we list below.
Other Ratings can also be used and combined with the above ratings they can give more detail on the shoe.
This can be helpful when selecting the type of footwear that is needed:
If we break the first six ratings down further, we can see how they can be combined with the additional ratings and how these ratings build on top of one another.
SB – (Safety Basic) Toe protection
SB rated footwear has toe protection which has been rated to withstand an impact of up to 200 joules (the equivalent to a 20kg weight dropped 1020mm onto the toes). These will quite often be rated with additional protective factors from the above list. For example, if you saw SB-CI, you would know that the footwear has protective toe caps and insulation against the cold.
If you look at the lists, you may see some items repeated from one list to the other (for example S3 has midsole protection where P is the same thing). This allows for footwear rated SB, or S1 to have the toe protection without needing to also prevent water penetration. Think of them like a menu enabling manufacturers to build specific footwear to control specific hazards presented by different industries.
S1 – Antistatic, oil-resistant and energy absorption
First of all, we need to understand that these ratings are, mostly, cumulative. So, an S1 rated shoe has the benefits of SB in addition to the benefits of S1. S1 ratings are useful for those working in chemical industries, for example. The antistatic prevents a spark occurring, greatly reducing the risk of fire from flammable substances. Oil resistance will prevent slips as well as contaminating other areas with the transfer of the oil (which also includes fuel) and energy absorption relates to the heel of the boot. This will lessen the impact of a fall if the person lands on their feet. Again, this can be combined with the other ratings for further protective factors. For example, seeing S1-P would mean you have toe protection, antistatic, oil/fuel resistance, energy absorption in the heel and additional penetrative resistance.
S2 – Prevents water penetration
Again, with an S2 show we get the benefits of SB and S1 as well as the benefit of being, effectively, waterproof. This occurs all around the shoe (the sole right round to what is referred to as the “upper” being the sides and top of the show). If we had a rating of S2-AN we would have a show with protective toe caps, antistatic, oil/fuel resistance, energy absorption in the heel, water proofing and ankle protection.
S3 – Midsole penetration resistance
Midsole penetrative resistance refers to protective measures such as a plate in the mid sole to prevent penetration from the bottom of the shoe. This can be particularly useful on construction sites or other work locations where the ground may have sharp items in place.
S4 – Leak-proof
At this point, the S4 rating has the protection of only S1 and S4, as well as being rubberised to prevent any leakage. Rubberised footwear needs to be carefully considered. Flexibility is important and some of these types of footwear compromise the flexibility of the show preventing proper movement of the ankle and creating another hazard.
S5 – Leak-proof with midsole penetration resistance
The last rating contains all the benefits of S4 as well as the penetrative resistance offered by a midsole.
By considering these ratings you can make an informed decision about the ratings that you need for your work. Once you have established the ratings of the footwear which you need, you can move on to the ‘consult’ part of the process.
Part 2: Consult
Consulting with employees is the one part of health and safety that is really important and which, unfortunately, is often missed. By consulting with the workforce, you give employees buy-in to the policies and processes and you can also make sure that the controls that are in place are reasonable. This goes a long way to building a positive safety culture within a business.
Safety footwear is probably the one piece of personal protective equipment that you cannot get around consultation. You cannot buy a pair of shoes which is “one size fits all” so if you need to gather this information then you might as well carry out the proper consultation with the worker.
For smaller companies this is quite straight forward as you will likely understand their role and the hazards which they are faced with. For a larger company with multiple departments, and potentially hundreds (if not thousands!) of employees you may need to speak to them to properly understand their role. Regardless of the company size, when you have this conversation, you need to refer to the risk assessment to ensure that you get the right rating for the footwear which you choose.
I would also urge you to not try to find the cheapest footwear possible. Aim for something more mid-range if you are price conscious, but do not compromise on comfort. Your employees have to wear this footwear on a daily basis. Uncomfortable footwear not only causes a distraction but increases the risk of certain hazards as the employee will no longer be sure-footed. Bulk buying protective footwear in various sizes and holding them in stock is not necessarily the best option.
As part of the ongoing consultation process with your employees, be sure to seek feedback from your employees. If it has been come months and the footwear is uncomfortable, consider changing the footwear and making a note of the discomfort. Through good record keeping you can identify which footwear is more uncomfortable, creating a system whereby you can easily find good, reliable, comfortable footwear.
Part 3: Choose
It’s a lot of work to get to this point and do all of the above, but it’s worth it. By the time you have gotten down to choosing the footwear you want, if you have followed the above advice, you will know exactly what you want and exactly what the employee needs. You will be able to go to your supplier and ask for a range of options meeting the protective measures and being the right size and type of footwear for the individual involved. There are a few things to remember when we reach this stage.
Firstly, never buy secondhand shoes. These will be “moulded” or worn into the shape of someone else’s feet, and if they are not then there must be a reason – they are second hand after all. You also don’t know what that footwear has been subjected to. Has the protective toe cap been subjected to large impact and is now cracked? Has the sole been exposed to a substance, causing it to become damaged? Is the shoe still waterproof?
Secondly, cost, as we have mentioned already. Cost should be a part of your process for determining which shoe to buy. Mid-range pricing is always a safe bet. You don’t need to spend over the odds for protective footwear and it is not the case that more expensive is better. Equally though, don’t default to the cheapest option.
You do need to make sure that PPE you select meets the requirements of various legislation. The easiest way to do this is to look for the safety standards. Below are the EN standards you might come across:
- EN ISO 20345:2004 (since replaced by 20345:2011) – this lays out the standard for the 200 joule impact resistance testing
- EN ISO 20346:2004 – this standard specifies a lesser test of 100 joules for the impact resistance test
- EN ISO 20347:2004 – this is for footwear which can have any number of features for safety, but which does not have a protective toecap
Footwear which meets these standards will receive a CE marking. It is a requirement that all footwear designed before 2004 and manufactured today carries the EN ISO 20345:2004 standard. Other EN standards that you may come across are:
- EN ISO 20345:2007 – this standard gives the minimum requirements for re-testing of footwear
- EN ISO 20345:2011 – this standard applies to all footwear manufactured after 31st July 2013 and sets out tougher minimum requirements for safety footwear.
Once chosen, ordered, and received, the footwear should be checked over to make sure that it is defect free. Issue the footwear to the employee along with any instructions. You should keep a record of when you issued the footwear to the employee too so that the life-span of the footwear can be monitored, which can again help with the consideration of which footwear is best.
Providing the employee with all of the information about the footwear you have issued is key. Aftercare needs to be considered and an instruction sheet can be given to the employee with the view to increase the lifespan of the footwear. Some of these considerations can include:
- Untying the laces after each wear
- Replacing the laces when they are frayed, worn or broken
- Give time to air dry naturally if wet
- Clean the shoes and remove built up mud, dirt or other compounds
- Continue to monitor and replace when shoes are worn or become defective (this includes the tread wearing as this presents a slip hazard)
To give you some kind of an idea as to what each type of industry may need. This does not replace the need for a risk assessment on your part but should get you thinking about which types of footwear would be most suitable for different industries. Hopefully this has given you more of an insight into selecting the correct footwear for your employees, as well the different standards and codes which are available to you. The whole process is designed to offer your employees the best protection against the hazards which they will face as part of their works. Remember ‘consider’, ‘consult’ then ‘choose’. Mixing up this process could see you buying the wrong footwear and then having to change it, incurring extra cost and time, and perhaps leaving your workers unprotected.