Keeping feet on the ground

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Slip-resistant safety footwear can play a vital role in preventing slips and trips, but it’s vital to also consider other factors like wearer comfort when selecting it.

The Health and Safety Executive estimates that slips, trips and falls cost Britain £800 million annually, with the direct cost to employers at around £300 million.

Falling victim to such accidents can increase the likelihood of workers developing
serious injuries or debilitating longer-term health conditions such as musculoskeletal disorders – a leading contributor to disability worldwide.

Photograph: HAIX

The burden slips, trips and falls put on worker health, organisational finances and the UK’s economy is devastating, yet it is preventable in many instances. Employers can take a proactive approach to prevent this kind of injury by ensuring their workforce wear supportive, high-quality, comfortable footwear, as advances in safety footwear design have resulted in smarter, lighter and stronger materials that can combat the risks.

Safety boot sole units are often made from composites like rubber/polyurethane mixes that enhance durability and grip, providing stability and reducing the chance of slipping even on surfaces covered in oil or petrol. Coupled with advanced ground impact cushioning that reduces strain on joints and muscles, designing safety footwear from ‘the sole up’ will be as integral to future personal protective equipment design as it is in today’s products.

Wellbeing starts from the feet up and investing in quality, compliant protective footwear can prevent accidents in the workplace.

Selecting the right footwear
Where floors cannot be kept clean and dry, slip-resistant footwear can help prevent slip accidents.

When selecting safety footwear, the wearer should consider the level of slip resistance needed for their specific situation. For example, footwear that performs well in wetter conditions might not be suitable on oily surfaces. This can be determined through a proper risk assessment. Different models of footwear provide varying levels of slip-resistance – for example, some models incorporate a special heel cup to offer extra stability.

Manufacturers should design safety footwear with a variety of surfaces in mind. HAIX footwear, for example, can help to maintain a secure grip when faced with steep slopes, wet roads or oil-covered floors in workshops because the outsoles are manufactured in a special abrasion-resistant rubber compound with a bold tread.

In addition to selecting footwear with the right features, all footwear should be trialled to ensure it meets the need of the environment and the wearer.

HAIX safety footwear undergoes a series of over 100 material and quality assurance tests, replicating the day-to-day challenges of its wearers, who spend most of their time on their feet. To ensure footwear is slip resistant, it is tested according to the main safety standard, EN ISO 20345:2011, with specific codes for certain conditions:

  • SRA – tested on ceramic tile wetted with dilute soap solution
  • SRB – tested on smooth steel with glycerol
  • SRC – tested under both the above conditions.

Waterproof and breathable materials
Water-resistance and breathable, insulating materials are also key because wet or hot feet may cause concentration levels to drop as the wearer becomes more concerned about their comfort than the job in hand.

Distraction at work can lead to an accident, so providing waterproof, breathable footwear can reduce this risk. Waterproof boots adhere to the EN ISO standard: 20345/20347, the minimum European standard manufacturers should achieve. Boots that incorporate a GORE-TEX® membrane with microscopic pores that are 20,000 times smaller than a drop of water exceed this standard and ensure footwear is watertight.

To keep feet ventilated when working hard, uppers – the part of the shoe covering the top, sides, back and toes of the foot – should be made from appropriate leather or breathable material.

Anti-fatigue properties and comfort
A recurring complaint from those who wear safety footwear is plantar fasciitis, an acute pain in the heel caused by inflammation of the plantar fascia. This is prevalent among people who stand for long periods while at work, such as factory line workers.

Damage to the plantar fascia is the leading cause of heel pain in adults and, if left untreated, can lead to long-term health effects and pain that can negatively affect an individual’s concentration levels at work, increasing the likelihood of an accident.

Using advances in design influenced by biomechanics, footwear manufacturers can address such issues. For example, incorporating a support system in the footwear that supports the natural curvature of the foot can help the wearer to maintain a more natural foot position. This helps to reduce wearer fatigue, especially when boots are worn over long periods, ensuring better overall bodily posture and acting to minimise the long-term injury risk associated with standing for long periods.

Many conventional safety shoes keep the foot rigid, and as a result, the plantar fascia tend to become tight and inflexible because the tissue is not sufficiently stressed, leading to pain. Therefore, to help prevent plantar fascia damage and reduce fatigue, safety footwear has been developed that features an innovative strap construction, called fascia tape. This runs around the foot and stimulates the fasciae and muscles in the foot sole to keep them elastic. In short, the improved shoe structure is designed to take into account the foot’s natural shape and its need to move freely.

As well as reducing muscle and ligament stress, choosing comfortable, supportive footwear with anti-fatigue properties can minimise the risk of slips, trips and falls caused by difficulty concentrating or weariness.

Other issues long-term wearers face, such as lower leg fatigue induced by overall boot weight, can also be countered by smart material choices. For example, advances in materials like nanocarbon can produce toe-caps and reinforced areas that meet the same safety and protection standards as steel toe-caps but remain ultra-lightweight.

Also, although the puncture-resistance of boot midsoles is often accomplished using metal, advanced fabrics and textiles can be used to provide levels of puncture-resistance while decreasing the footwear’s overall weight and increasing comfort and flexibility.

Taking safer steps
Wellbeing starts from the feet up and investing in quality, compliant protective footwear will help to ensure workers are protected and able to perform at their best. The importance of footwear as a core element of protection should never be underestimated, especially as instances of slips and trips remain so high.

As employers look to reduce and manage the risk of slips, trips and falls at work, the importance of footwear as a core element of protection should never be underestimated. An investment in reliable, high-quality safety footwear is an investment in wearer health, comfort and safety.

Simon Ash is UK sales manager at HAIX.


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