In a study of 321 workers in variety of industries that were required to wear safety footwear 91 percent of the workers were assessed to have a foot issue, of which 72 percent were attributed to the safety footwear they wore.
The study by Marr & Quine, Shoe Concerns and Foot Problems of Wearers of Safety Footwear, found half of the workers (49%) also reported to have out right foot pain – a rate three times what would be expected in the general population.
The high prevalence of foot problems in workers that wear safety footwear is a serious concern for both worker welfare and workplace productivity.
The process of selecting safety footwear for the workplace is often heavily driven by the item cost.
However, the real costs to footwear related issues are often captured in the workplace health and safety division.
But the implementation of comprehensive assessments of the site, job tasks, workforce and correctly fitting safety footwear all assist in reducing the true footwear costs.
The appropriate steps in selecting footwear for the workplace are outlined below:
1. A comprehensive risk assessment process of the workplace should be undertaken to understand if any additional safety footwear requirements are necessary. A range of different footwear may be required for different areas within the workplace. Additional safety footwear standards include:
· Penetration resistant midsole for protection from sharp objects underfoot.
· Metatarsal guards to protect the arch of the foot from impact injuries.
· Anti-static designs to reduce the risk of spark ignition in volatile environments.
· Sole resistance to hot contact
· Slip resistance characteristics to slips with soap on ceramic tiles, glycerol on steel or both. Selecting the appropriate style of outsole pattern for the work surface should also be assessed.
· Water resistance for protection in wet environments.
· Ankle protection from side impact.
· Conductive footwear to earth static electricity.
· Electrically insulation from the flow of electrical current.
2. Movement patterns undertaken in each job task in the workplace should be analysed when selecting safety footwear. For instance if workers driving machinery require free ankle mobility to quickly adjust their foot on the pedals. Analysing job tasks should result in a short list of styles appropriate for each job type in the workplace.
3. Understanding the workforce physical characteristics should also influence the style of footwear selected. For example a work place that is dominated by obese males may require footwear to have a much wider and deeper fitting profile than average.
4. No one style will correctly fit an entire work force. There is a large variation in foot width, depth and arch height in the population. A range of footwear with differing fitting profiles will ensure that the vast majority of workers will have a style of footwear that fits their foot.
5. The final step is ensuring the workers safety footwear is correctly fitted. Footwear is best fitted at the end of the day and wearing work socks. Correctly fitting footwear is a four step process. The first step is to determine the correct length by removing the insole and standing on it to ensure that a gap of 12-15mm exists between the end of the longest toe and the insole. The insole should then be returned to the footwear and the footwear fitted to the flex point at the ball of the foot, foot width and depth. If any of these parameters are not correct a different size or style should be selected. Correctly fitting safety footwear is potentially the most important step in reducing foot issues in the workplace.
Safety footwear is a significant contributing factor to foot issues in the workplace.
However, implementation of a comprehensive process of workplace assessment and footwear policies can help improve worker welfare, workplace productivity and reduce the real cost of footwear.
By Dr Caleb Wegener
* Dr Caleb Wegener is a member of the MACK Boots Footwear Research & Innovation team