||Toe cap protection – steel or composite
|Sharp objects/sole penetration
||Steel or composite midsole protection
|Metatarsal injury/crush risk
||Metatarsal protector covering the bridge of the footwear
|Cut protection (eg chainsaw)
||Specialist chainsaw boots are available
||Acids/alkalis/chemicals resistant sole; know what type of acid/chemical is being used. Calling the supplier to check the footwear complies with requirements may be necessary
||Ankle protection; lace ups; shock absorbing heels
||Foundry boots; calf protection
||Heat resistant soles; cold store boots/wellies (ensure insulation as well as breathable qualities)
|Minor irritant substances
||Rigger boots provide extra coverage
||Easy-clean, machine washable
|Long standing periods
||Comfortable soles; insoles; shock-absorber heel
Source: adapted from Best Workwear
Selecting the correct footwear by use
As well as considering the hazards/risk involved in the job requiring safety footwear, procurers can also think about their industry – construction and healthcare sectors will have very different needs. For example:
||Protective toe caps and midsole; anti-static and anti-slip sole; waterproof
||Shock absorber heel; anti-slip sole; easy-clean/machine washable
||Washable safety shoes
||Protective 200 joule toe caps and midsole protection; secure fit; support
||Standard safety boots
||Steel or composite toe cap and midsole; water resistant outer; sealed stitching; thermal lining
||Cold store boot; specialist wellington
||Secure top preventing hot material falling onto feet; quick release buckles
||Foundry boots; welder safety shoes
|Forestry (chainsaw operators)
||Good grip; protective guarding to the front, toe cap and midsole
||Chainsaw boots (special hazard safety boots)
||Non-slip sole; shock absorber heel; comfortable sole; easy-clean/machine washable
||Washable slip on safety shoe/clog
||Chemical resistance (to EN 13832-2; 13832-3)
||Chemical resistant safety wellingtons; safety boots/shoes with chemical resistant sole for less hazardous environments
||Protective toe cap; anti-static and anti-slip sole; oil and acid/alkali resistance
||Safety boots/shoes to suit warehouse activities/environment
Source: adapted from Best Workwear
Other selection considerations
Impact and Compression Ratings
When shopping for steel toe or composite boots/shoes you must be aware of the impact rating and compression rating:
- the impact rating is a number that informs you of the amount of pounds of impact the shoes will protect against. For example, an I/75 impact rated pair of boots can withstand an impact of 75 pounds. The minimum impact rating for safety toe boots is I/50
- the compression rating is the number of loads the shoes can withstand before cracking or breaking. For example, a C/75 will guard against compressive loads of up to 2,500 pounds. A C/50 pair of boots can protect against compressive loads of up to 1,750 pounds.
Comfort and Convenience
Comfort and convenience to the wearer should be considered when selecting safety boots and footwear: employees should be consulted and be given a degree of choice, where appropriate, before final selection is made.
Footwear is worn for many hours each day, and so must offer comfort as well as safety; the fit must be right to ensure both.
As noted above, consultation with those wearing the PPE is crucial to make sure the correct PPE is chosen and that it is used and maintained properly.
Involving the end-users with regard to fit, comfort and wearability is likely to lead to better levels of user acceptance and therefore better protection.
Ensure any safety footwear you buy is ‘CE’ marked and complies with the requirements of the PPE Regulations. The CE marking signifies that the PPE satisfies certain basic safety requirements and in some cases will have been tested and certified by an independent body.
Try before you buy
Some suppliers may offer ‘try before you buy’ on some products. This could be an important exercise in the procurement process; footwear marked ‘slip resistant’ may not perform well in your workplace for example, but you might not know that until you try the footwear out.
Others in your industry/job role may be able to advise on what has worked for them, or recommend certain products. This should only form part of your research however, as footwear should be selected for the job/environment/worker for whom you are procuring.
In addition to ensuring that safety boots meet the required legal standards it is also important to ensure it fits well. Poorly fitting safety footwear can result in bunions, corns, calluses, hammertoes, and other foot problems, and above all – safety footwear that does not fit may fail to prevent injury. So think about:
Upper – should be made from natural materials such as leather or a breathable man-made fabric. Some leather has a plastic coating to repel water and allow the shoe to be wiped clean.
Lining – should be a breathable material to keep the foot fresh. Linings need to be smooth and seam-free.
Toe area – should be foot-shaped and deep enough to prevent rubbing and allow the toes to wriggle. This is especially important with protective toecaps. If the shoes are padded and fitted properly, you should not be able to feel the toecaps at all.
Insole – should preferably be removable to allow easy insertion of padding or orthoses.
Heel ﬁt – the heel should fit snugly on the foot, stopping the heel slipping out of the shoe and stabilising the foot upon ground contact.
Heel – should have a broad base and be no higher than 4cm. If worn for long stretches they should be no more than 2cm in height.
Sole – should be strong and flexible with shock absorption to cushion the jolts of walking on hard surfaces. Material should be slip resistant, such as rubber, polyurethane or PVC.
Fastenings – laces, buckles or Velcro to secure the foot in the shoe.
Consider the materials used to make the footwear as each material provides different levels of comfort, breathability, and durability. Examples include nylon mesh and leather, full grain leather, waterproof leather, Gore Tex.
Cost over Quality
PPE can often fall victim to cost management exercises because it can be seen as excessive or sometimes unnecessary ‘extras’ but is an area where cost cutting should be avoided. Good quality materials are a must and durability makes for a long lasting investment, rather than a short term cost.
Some companies still hesitate to purchase quality PPE and base product selection solely on the ‘up front price’ of each piece. While these companies may be able to reduce short term costs, they’re missing an opportunity to improve worker protection and enhance PPE performance.
Typically, companies get what they pay for when it comes to PPE. While lower quality footwear may cost less initially, it is likely to cost more in the long term if it needs to be replaced more frequently or if injury rates rise. Without the right protection against hazards, workplace accidents can increase.
An employer is legally responsible for protecting their workforce against injury and providing a safe working environment. Failing to do this could leave you vulnerable to expensive workplace injury claims.
What to avoid
- Overlooking the standards: make sure the boots you select meets the relevant standards for the job involved (for example, S1 boots do not offer a steel layer protecting against sharp objects; instead you need S1P or S3 boots).
- Buying the wrong boots: sounds obvious but if you don’t match the footwear to the environment, task and wearer you’ll be buying the wrong footwear.
- Getting the wrong size: this can happen if you buy online. Be familiar with the wearer and their shoe size.
- Style over safety: shoe manufacturers generally give priority to safety, quality and functionality. Although wearers may more readily wear a shoe/boot that looks good, this should not be an overriding factor when selecting.
- Don’t order in bulk: if you’re trying a product for the first time. Test a few shortlisted items with the workforce.
Spotting counterfeit or illegal products
It is a basic health and safety requirement that all PPE be supplied with instructions for use, and must carry the CE mark. The British Safety Industry Federation (BSIF) has put together a checklist that can help procurers of PPE spot potentially non-compliant products. The checklist asks:
- Is the CE mark present on the product marking/labelling?
- If present on the product, is the CE mark in the correct font and at least 5mm high?
- For high risk products, including respirators and chemical protective clothing, is the CE mark accompanied by a 4-digit number? (eg CE0120)
- Were written instructions for use provided with the product?
- Are the instructions for use printed in clear and legible text?
- Are the instructions for use written in at least English?
- Is the name and address of the manufacturer detailed on the user instructions?
BSIF also have available a CE Certificate Checklist to help you check that the PPE you have purchased is legal, its CE compliance certificate is genuine and that it relates directly to the performance of the equipment.
Evaluating safety boot and footwear suppliers/manufacturers
It is likely that you already have a trusted list of product suppliers. However, when looking for a new supplier/manufacturer it is work thinking about:
- accreditation – has the supplier achieved accreditation to relevant industry standards such as OHSAS 18001? This demonstrates commitment and knowledge, and demonstrates that the company has been successful at meeting the requirements of international accreditation standards
- membership to relevant industry groups/boards – is the supplier a member of First Point Assessment (FPAL) for example, who work to identify, qualify, evaluate, and monitor suppliers on behalf of its purchasing members in the oil and gas industry. Or to organisations such as the British Safety Industry Federation (BSIF), which demonstrates a commitment to safety and ethical trading. BSIF also runs the Registered Safety Supplier Scheme, which helps ensure you’re dealing with a reputable PPE supplier
- Eurosafe membership – this is the association of independent PPE, safety work wear and equipment distributors operating in the UK and Ireland
- does the supplier offer any tools or resources that could help with your decision?
Crucially, make sure that suppliers/manufacturers supply products that are CE marked and display relevant EN codes; and have the required informative leaflets supplied with it. Talk to colleagues and peers who may be able to recommend suppliers that they use and trust.
Meeting the needs of your workforce
As we know, one of the key points in safety boot procurement is considering the user. We’ve looked at comfort and convenience, and achieving the best fit. Another important consideration is whether or not the user has a condition that could influence your choice of footwear. Some to consider are:
Diabetic work shoes aim to provide protection against diabetic foot injury. They can be made from breathable leather or suede materials and are designed to cushion while providing ankle, arch, and heel support, and evenly distributing body weight across the foot to avoid painful pressure points. Diabetic work shoes can also provide the extra depth necessary to accommodate custom-orthotics which can prevent foot pain and provide comfort.
Ensure a correct fit for people who suffer with diabetes because poor fitting shoes, whether too loose or too tight, can cause rubbing leading to ulcers and further complications if not treated.
Many people with diabetes experience numbness and loss of sensation in their feet, thus it becomes even more critical that they wear correct fitting shoes to ensure that ulcers do not develop.
Comfort is key. Feet may change shape as people get older, and this is especially the case if they have arthritis – size and width fitting will be a consideration here.
Leather uppers are usually the most comfortable for people with foot problems; a flexible sole can also be better unless a doctor or podiatrist has advised that rigid soles are better for a particular foot problem.
For those with hammer toes or prominent joints, smooth lining without seams would be better. Consider that special insoles or orthoses may be needed; where used it must be ensured that there’s enough room to fit them in the safety shoes, especially around the toes.
Plantar fasciitis is injury to the tissue (fascia) that surrounds muscle and nerves on the bottom of the foot (plantar).
Excess weight that puts extra strain on the bottom of the foot, or standing for long periods of time, especially without good cushioning in the shoes, can also cause damage. Heel spurs are often seen with plantar fasciitis. Heel spurs are deposits of calcium on the underside of the heel that may or may not cause pain; the calcium is deposited after stress or injury. Heel spur and plantar fasciitis are sometimes linked together under the term Heel Spur Syndrome.
Things to check when buying a work boot is the amount of supportive cushioning, the ability of the boot to take extra cushioning in the form of inserts or custom-made orthotics and how well the boot fits the needs of the job.
Wide fittings include 2E (wide), 4E (extra wide) and 6E (extra, extra wide).Ensure the footwear has relevant safety features, such as steel or composite toe caps. Wider styles can vary from wide safety shoes, boots and trainers.
Floor surface type
When selecting safety boots, think about the surface type on which the footwear will be worn. Footwear alone will not eliminate slips on contaminated surfaces – there are several factors that may contribute to an accident and good housekeeping can help to prevent incidents. Selecting footwear carefully however, to ensure basic tread pattern design and consideration of friction levels, will help to minimise the risk of slips.
So when thinking about surface type in relation to footwear selection, consider:
- tread patterns
- material type
- test results (surface conditions; friction; heel slip; etc)
- and ask for more information specific to your end use from the supplier.
Inspection and maintenance
The PPE Regulations require that PPE is properly assessed before use to make sure it is fit for purpose; and to ensure that it is maintained and stored properly.
While the selection of safety boots and footwear appropriate to the wearer, environment and demands of the job is essential to ensuring that it provides the proper protection, inspecting the footwear for signs that it may need to be replaced is also crucial.
There’s no one-size-fits-all formula for knowing exactly when it’s time to replace safety shoes, as there are many variables to consider such as the job hazards, how often the boot is worn and the size and weight of the worker. However if there’s any doubt that the shoe is no longer performing as it should, then it should be replaced.
When inspecting safety footwear to see if it needs to be replaced, shoes with steel toecaps may show more obvious signs of damage or wear than shoes with composite material toecaps. For example, if a heavy object falls on a steel toe shoe, the steel cap will be dented and will not ‘spring back’, suggesting that the shoe must be replaced. Conversely, composite material shoes could still be damaged in the same incident but maintain their form.
Consider the tread on a slip-resistant safety shoe – once the tread or outsole show signs of wear or damage, the shoe is likely to need replacing.
The HSE advise that PPE must be properly looked after and stored when not in use, e.g. in a dry, clean cupboard. If it is reusable it must be cleaned and kept in good condition.
An effective maintenance system includes the following:
- examination – checking for faults, damage, wear and tear, dirt etc;
- testing – to ensure PPE is operating as intended;
- cleaning – including disinfection if appropriate;
In general, PPE should be examined to ensure it is in good working order before being issued to the user. Such examinations should be carried out by appropriately trained staff. It should not be issued if found to be defective.
Manufacturers’ maintenance schedules and instructions should also be followed.
Employers can ask employees to clean their own PPE, but it is advised that this be stipulated in the person’s contract of employment. The employer would need to ensure proper cleaning instructions are provided so there is no damage and the employer should arrange for spot checks to ensure PPE is suitable.
The HSE’s L25 document notes that PPE will have a useable ‘shelf life’. When it exceeds this shelf life or is so badly damaged that repair is not possible or too costly then it needs to be replaced.
Conclusion – key points
The procurement of safety boots and footwear is only the first stage in a continuing programme involving risk assessment, employee consultation, training and supervision to ensure proper use, and inspection and maintenance of the product.
Safety footwear that is not appropriate may fail to prevent injury and cause foot problems. Select the right product based on your risk assessment and consultation with your team – make sure they’re comfortable wearing the product. Then educate them in the why and the how and make sure you have a regime to monitor and evaluate continuously.
Steps to perfect safety footwear, and indeed all PPE:
- Assess the hazard and look to reduce it first using other means
- Research the most suitable safety footwear if it is required based on the results of your risk assessment
- Check the product carries the relevant CE, EN safety marks and is being sourced from a reputable supplier
- Consult with your workforce and trial the PPE with them
- Educate and train employees on correct use
- Audit your PPE compliance, monitor and evaluate continuously – re-assess whether the product remains fit for purpose.
TUC Working feet and footwear
Best workwear buyer’s Guide
HSE Personal protective equipment at work (Second edition) – L25
HSE INDG174 Personal protective equipment (PPE) at work
The Personal Protective Equipment at Work Regulations 1992
ISO 20345:2011 – Personal protective equipment – Safety Footwear
Stop Slip, the importance of safety footwear
Supplying slip-resistant footwear
Diabetes – Healthy Feet Store
Diabetes – DB