Workplace Injury Prevention: Functional Footwear
We tend to take our mobility for granted. Need something from the other room? Walk over and get it. Activities like these are ones that we often don’t give much thought to – we just do them. But what if something happened so it was no longer this easy? What if an injury robbed us of our ability to perform these simple tasks temporarily? How would we cope? And that’s not even beginning to address the difficulties we would have if we had permanent damage. Proper footwear is a vital part of workplace injury prevention; just as much as the need to protect our eyes and hands.
If we want to look at this from an economic standpoint, consider these numbers. The National Safety Council estimates that 120,000 foot injuries are caused by work incidents in any given year. All jokes about assuming aside, we’ll assume that one tenth of those resulted in lost time from work. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ (BLS) report on 2014 injuries, the median days missed for a foot injury was 9 days. That is approximately 108,000 days missed from work, assuming an average based on the median from the BLS report. Using these numbers, workers collectively missed nearly 300 calendar years of productive time from work. So what do we do to reduce this number?
For employers, one of the best workplace injury prevention strategies is to have a proper personal protective equipment plan in place that accurately identifies the hazards of the work and the protective features required in employee protective footwear. There are many features available, and so we need to make sure that the right ones are identified.
Foot Related Hazards and Injuries
Perhaps the most common hazard is objects that can fall or roll onto an employee’s feet. The basic feature here would be the steel or composite safety toe. This is great if the object only rolls or falls onto the employee’s toes. There are also metatarsal guards that provide similar protection for the top of the employee’s feet, too, which can reduce the severity of midfoot injuries that often need extensive medical treatment.
Another set of common hazards includes cuts and punctures. The thick soles of most protective footwear can reduce the number and severity of these injuries, but additional protection can be had from metal foot guards and puncture-proof inserts. If the work requires employees to work near sharp materials or many puncture hazards, these additional layers of protection should definitely be considered.
Slips and falls can occur frequently, as well. Operations that require work to be performed on wet surfaces, or that involve oils that may leak or spill, should require non-slip soles. These soles can be part of the actual footwear, or even a type of “sandal” that can slip over the employees’ shoes.
Let’s not forget about chemical hazards, which can lead to pretty significant injuries as well, so footwear that protects against spills, splashes, and accidental exposures are a must. These are often made of rubber, vinyl, or plastic, and need to be evaluated against the specific chemicals that the employees could be exposed to. Make sure to consult your safety data sheets for specific material requirements for the chemicals that you use.
There are a number of other hazards that the proper footwear can protect against, as well, such as electrical exposures, heat and flames, hot surfaces, sanitation contamination, sparks or wetness, to name but a few. If your work exposes you to these kinds of hazards, make sure that the footwear you use provides the appropriate protection.
Workplace Injury Prevention Strategy: Using the Right Shoes for the Job
A good way to ensure that the equipment you use is appropriate to the hazards is to look for a rating from the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM). Footwear that has been tested and rated will have an ASTM stamp, usually on the tongue of the boot. An ASTM F2413-11 stamp, for example, means the footwear has been certified to meet requirements for impact and compression resistant footwear.
So whatever your line of work may be, make sure that the footwear you require and that you use provides the appropriate level of protection, and that employees are using the right protective equipment.
 “Nonfatal Occupational Injuries and Illnesses Requiring Days Away from Work, 2014” http://www.bls.gov/news.release/pdf/osh2.pdf