Be it Jimmy Choo, Milano Blanik or Yeezys, people spend a lot of money on making their feet look nice, but how much do people know about what should be done to both protect their feet and prevent slips and falls?
As Anne-Marie at the latest Brit Awards, and Madonna before her know, making sure you have a sure footing is important, and this means thinking about the footwear you are wearing and the surface you are walking or working on.
There are two elements to consider when thinking about slips, trips and falls: footwear and the floor surface. Making sure that you have considered both factors will go a long way to preventing slip and trip accidents at work.
The original concept of safety footwear was born 400 years ago. In the early 17th century, safety shoes known as “sabots” were invented for workers in Europe. These sabots were shaped like normal shoes, but hand carved from wood with the intention of protecting the worker’s feet from being stabbed by sharp objects or crushed by heavy objects.
In the industrial revolution, it is said that French workers threw their sabots into machinery to damage and break the machines, this is where the word “Sabotage” comes from. However, some say this is an urban myth.
Before the 20th century, life was cheap; it cost less to replace a worker than reinforce safety measures. At the beginning of the 20th century, safety issues were starting to be addressed and big companies started to ensure their machinery was safe to use due to the possible liability costs.
In the UK, the Health and Morals of Apprentices Act 1802 was the first health and safety legislation to be passed by parliament. This initial legislation was extremely limited and was on the whole only applicable to apprentices in cotton and wool mills. There is also not a great deal of evidence that this legislation was ever enforced. The Factories Act of 1833 then followed and was updated in the 20th century. All of these laws dealt with general requirements and did not specifically mention protective equipment or safety footwear. The next major piece of legislation was the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974, and there again, personal protective equipment was still not part of the Act.
Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) as a whole eventually got its own dedicated legislation in 1992 with the European Directive as part of the ‘six pack’ series of directives. In 1993, The Personal Protective Equipment at Work Regulations of 1992 were enforced in the UK under the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act of 1974. This stated that suitable personal protective equipment must be provided to employees who are exposed to health risks when at work.
During this time standards for footwear were being developed and we now have EN20345 which outlines the requirements of safety boots and shoes. The full name of the EN ISO 20345 specification is EN ISO 20345:2011 Personal Protective Equipment – Safety Footwear which is the standard all styles of “safety footwear” are tested against. The standard was previously known as EN345, but this was replaced by EN ISO 20345:2004. It was further revised by EN ISO 20345:2007 followed by EN ISO 20345:2011, which is the current version of this standard. This will be superseded by ISO/WD 20345 in due course; however, this is still in development.
If the shoe fits…
EN ISO 20345:2011 standard sets out minimum requirements for all safety footwear, and is more stringent than previous versions of the standard in that it specifies that all safety footwear must have toe protection. Other tests that footwear must meet are a standard of 200-joules impact-resistance (equivalent to a 20kg weight dropped 1,020mm onto the toes) and a 15kN compression test (equivalent to 1.5 tonnes resting on the toe area). All safety footwear manufactured after the 31st of July 2013 must meet this standard. However, this doesn’t mean that footwear made before that date is now not permitted, only that those produced after this date will need to meet the new stricter standard.
“EN ISO 20345:2011 standard sets out minimum requirements for all safety footwear”
The Personal Protective Equipment Regulations 1992 require that a risk assessment be completed for all personal protective equipment including footwear. Before selecting safety footwear for your workforce, an employer should refer to a recent risk assessment of the workplace, or carry one out if it doesn’t already exist. The results of this assessment will indicate which hazards you need to protect your workers against, allowing you to choose the most suitable EN ISO 20345 rated safety shoes or safety boots. Things to consider in your risk assessment should include:
- Wet conditions
- Electrostatic build-up
- Slipping, cuts and punctures
- Falling objects
- Metal and chemical splash
- Extreme temperatures
- Outdoor or indoor use
Getting feedback from employees is also a good idea. Ask them what they think the hazards are. In most circumstances, they will have more experience from their daily exposures to hazards, that are not always obvious to others. They may suggest things that you had not considered, such as a requirement for waterproof safety footwear or footwear made of breathable fabric.
The 2020/21 RIDDOR statistics from the HSE (Health and Safety Executive) regarding slips and trips show that slips, trips and falls on the same level account for 33% of all non-fatal injuries at work. Non-slip safety footwear plays a crucial role in protecting workers from potentially dangerous surfaces.
How do I prevent slips and trips?
In the UK, The Workplace Health Safety and Welfare Regulations place duties on employers, along with the general duties under the Health and Safety at Work Act to ensure the safe condition of floors and traffic routes. These regulations cover requirements to ensure that floors and surfaces are maintained and in good condition.
Under Regulation 12:
- Every floor in a workplace and the surface of every traffic route in a workplace shall be of a construction such that the floor or surface of the traffic route is suitable for the purpose for which it is used.
- The floor, or surface of the traffic route, shall have no hole or slope, or be uneven or slippery so as, in each case, to expose any person to a risk to his health or safety; and
- every such floor shall have effective means of drainage where necessary.
- So far as is reasonably practicable, every floor in a workplace and the surface of every traffic route in a workplace shall be kept free from obstructions and from any article or substance which may cause a person to slip, trip or fall.
To support this requirement, the Health and Safety Executive has produced a checklist to identify slip and trip hazards and help employers address the potential risks. This can be found here www.hse.gov.uk/pubns/ck4.pdf and covers such things as:
Outdoor areas, doorways, entrances, corridors and offices, stairs and ramps and work areas and work platforms.
But, what does it all mean?
EN ISO 20345 Safety ratings explained
Once tested and certified, safety footwear manufacturers display EN ISO 20345 footwear products with this standard and the CE mark. Products will be marked with a simple two or three letter code, which defines the basic safety features of that particular product. For products tested to 200-joules impact resistance (EN ISO 20345), this code will begin with S, while for products tested for 100-joules toe caps (EN ISO 20346), it will begin with P. Additional properties may be indicated by further codes or pictograms.
The table below outlines the features that each rating under EN ISO 20345 holds: the slip-resistance ratings of footwear before you make your purchase. Safety footwear manufacturers display these on their products.
EN ISO 20345 Slip resistance ratings explained
SRA: Tested on ceramic tile with sodium lauryl sulphate (a diluted soap solution)
SRB: Tested on steel with glycerol
SRC: Tested under SRA and SRB conditions
There are a number of additional ratings relating to footwear that determine its suitability for certain tasks.
Choosing the right footwear
- Shoestring budget – You tend to get what you pay for, and with footwear it’s no different. Ensure you purchase footwear which is effective and will do the job – this will not necessarily be the cheapest. No one wants to wear ugly shoes, and more expensive shoes may be more comfortable or attractive, ensuring that workers wear them, and they will probably last longer.
- Walk the walk – Talk to your supplier. Identify the main surfaces and contaminants which cause slip risks in your workplace, and seek your supplier’s advice on suitable footwear.
- Appropriate footwear – Not all slip resistant footwear performs well in all conditions. Some generally slip-resistant footwear may not be suitable in specific demanding conditions, e.g. footwear that performs well in the wet might not be suitable on oily surfaces or on sticky food spillages which clog up the grip cleats.
- Dancing on ice – Slip testing. You can organise additional slip testing through the supplier – e.g. on surfaces/contaminants representative of your workplace.
- Sensible shoes – Think about asking your supplier to provide trial pairs of footwear to help you decide, and don’t select footwear on the basis of brochure descriptions or laboratory test results alone.
- Soft shoe shuffle – Footwear trials should involve a representative sample of the workforce and last long enough to produce meaningful results. Remember – workers may not wear footwear if it’s uncomfortable or impractical, no matter how effective it is.
Soles and walking surfaces –Things to consider
- Slipping away – The interface of the footwear and the floor surface. The sole tread pattern and sole compound are both important for slip resistance. A softer sole and close-packed tread pattern work well with fluid contaminants and indoor environments. A more open pattern works better outdoors or with solid contaminants, generally speaking. The only sure way to tell is to trial footwear in your environment.
- Don’t tread on me – You should ensure that that tread patterns do not become clogged with any waste or debris on the floor – soles should be cleaned regularly. If soles do clog up then look for an alternative design of sole, e.g. with a wider space between the cleats and a deeper tread pattern.
- Rubber sole – Slip resistance properties can change with wear. For example, some soles can deteriorate with wear, especially when the cleats become worn down.
- Hole in my shoe – Management of PPE. You should have a system for checking and replacing footwear before it becomes worn and dangerous.
- Get a grip – The correct choice of footwear on wet or contaminated profiled steel or aluminium surfaces, e.g. chequer plate, is important. With some footwear the surface profiles do not provide the improvement in slip resistance that might be expected.
- ‘Oil-resistant’ does not mean ‘slip-resistant’ – the former is just a statement that the soles will not be damaged by oil.
What else should I consider?
Slip resistance testing
When buying footwear, you should check that the footwear you are looking to purchase has actually been tested for slip resistance – older models might not have been.
Coefficient of Friction
Where footwear has been tested, coefficient of friction (CoF) test values must be available. CoF data can be requested from the supplier and some suppliers now publish it in their catalogues. The higher the CoF, the better the slip resistance. You should look for CoF results higher than the minimum requirements set out in annex A of EN ISO 20345/6/7:2004.
“it is important that you choose footwear that is appropriate to the environment”
The safety features of footwear, including slip resistance, are tested according to a set of European test standards written into EN ISO 20344:2004 (A1: 2007). Footwear which has passed the EN test for slip resistance will be marked with one of the following codes, SRA, SRB or SRC.
The codes indicate that the footwear has met the specified requirements when tested as follows:
- SRA – tested on ceramic tile wetted with dilute soap solution
- SRB – tested on smooth steel with glycerol
- SRC – tested under both the above conditions
It should be noted that these test surfaces are not wholly representative of all underfoot surfaces, so additional information may be needed to help to identify the best slip-resistant shoes for your particular environment.
The Health and Safety Laboratory (HSL) carries out research on footwear testing for HSE, and they have developed an in-house test which they have used for testing many footwear types. It is important that you choose footwear that is appropriate to the environment, and with all the information available this will certainly keep you on your toes.