The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that almost 5% of nonfatal workplace accidents requiring time off are foot related. Before picking out the best- looking pair of boots or shoes there are quite a few questions you need to ask. In addition to those questions, one thing people don’t understand is that Steel Toe shoes or boots don’t protect your feet from every hazard. Evaluate what duties you will be performing and what hazards are around you. First, what kind of surface will you be stepping on? Will the walking surface be uneven or slippery due to moisture from weather or oil? Does your job call on you to be in areas of wetness where waterproofing is necessary? Is it hot or cold? Do you need electrical protection or static-conducting footwear?

What is the big difference between steel toe and composite shoes or boots? A composite shoe will keep your feet a little warmer, it won’t set off a metal detector. If you chose a composite shoe over a steel toe the shoe itself will be lighter in weight. This might not make a difference initially but could add up over a full day’s work.

What does OSHA say specifically about footwear?

1910.132(h)(2): The employer is not required to pay for non-specialty safety-toe protective footwear (including steel-toe shoes or steel-toe boots) and non-specialty prescription safety eyewear, provided that the employer permits such items to be worn off the job-site

1910.132(h)(3): When the employer provides metatarsal guards and allows the employee, at his or her request, to use shoes or boots with built-in metatarsal protection, the employer is not required to reimburse the employee for the shoes or boots.

The ANSI (American National Standards Institute) Z41-1991 standard was retired and has been replaced with ASTM F2412 and F2413. What do these standards mean? Based on how the footwear is rated will determine how to best choose the correct footwear for you:

  • If you are looking for protection from Impact Safety footwear rated at I/50 or I/75 will offer protection of impact at 50lbs or 75lbs respectively.
  • When Compression is your primary concern, look for ratings of C/50 or C/75 for compressive loads of 1750 lbs. or 2500 lbs.
  • Endorsed Metatarsal footwear reaches the greatest impact level with class 75 requirements.
  • If the facility you’re working in requires Toe caps, they need to be comprised of composite or noncorrosive steel in order to not conduct heat or electricity and comply with ASTM F2413.
  • Working in a high voltage area your shoes/boots should be capable of surviving shocks up to 18,000 volts.
  • While working in highly charged areas where static is concern footwear must meet a low level of electrical resistance of one megaohm and an upper limit of 100 megaohms.
  • Worried about stepping on material that will puncture your footwear? Make sure your shoes or boots are designed to survive a puncture force of 270
  • Workers will be trained in proper PPE use to determine how to use it, what PPE is necessary, what the limitations of the PPE are and the proper care and maintenance of your PPE.

Once you evaluate your duties, your work surface, and your hazards; evaluate your level of comfort. Will you be more comfortable in a boot with full ankle support or will a slip-on shoe be more comfortable and appropriate?
Lastly, as you should with all your PPE, inspect your footwear. Several weeks ago, I laced up my steel toe boots that I didn’t realize had aged. I’d finally broken them in, and they were practically comfortable. I discovered upon leaving the Jobsite that the rubber on the bottom of my soles was deteriorating and started to crumble. It just goes to show you that even the best equipment doesn’t last forever.