The Unexpected Impact of Footwear on Occupational Health
By Alexandra Serban
October 01, 2019
Musculoskeletal diseases cause more than 22,000 workers to retire early. In most situations, the impact of lifting heavy loads and repetitive movements are the root causes, but there is a growing awareness of the impact of poor-quality safety footwear on worker health and safety.
Read on to learn more about occupational footwear and its effect on workers' health.
Different environments, different shoes
Some 40% of fractures occur to hands and feet and on average, result in a median of 32 days away from work to recuperate, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Walking and standing long hours put pressure on the heel and ball of the foot, causing musculoskeletal injuries in the long term. To ensure comfort, safety footwear should have shock-absorbing properties and should fit well to avoid knees, hips and lower back from experiencing abnormal movement and load.
Comfort remains one of the top selection criteria when it comes to protective footwear. With this in mind, Honeywell has launched a new footwear line that combines a unique ergonomic Wave technology to mimic the foot’s natural movement.
Safeguarding from falling objects
On a construction site, there is different elevation and plenty of debris on the ground. That’s why workers need a tough boot, with ankle support and a resistant, yet comfortable sole.
On the other hand, working at height, using step ladders or scaffolding, requires excellent grip and lightweight materials, so workers don’t slip or fall.
On a construction site, there’s also a significant risk of being struck by falling objects or crushed by heavy equipment. A robust protective toe cap with metatarsal protection is key to safety. Additionally, for outdoor work, workers need waterproof shoes.
A lot of features to consider, right?
Construction sites and industrial facilities make use of heavy-duty nails, bolts, iron bars, and other sharp materials.
Safety shoes with midsole penetration protection will protect workers from sharp objects. A stainless steel or aluminum insert in the sole creates a barrier between the foot and sharp objects on the ground. ISO 20345 specifies resistance to a penetration force of at least 1,100 N where applicable.
Dodging sparks and flames
In the energy sector, dielectric shoes protect workers by insulating them from the ground.
The applicable standard for safety footwear, EN ISO 20345, specifies electrostatic requirements and defines three areas, based on contact resistance: conductive, antistatic and electrically insulating footwear.
Shoes are antistatic if the measured contact resistance falls in the range between 100 kiloohms (105 ohm) and 1 gigaohm (109 ohm). According to the standard, if contact resistance falls below this value, they are considered to be conductive, while a higher value means they are electrically insulating.
Antistatic footwear prevents electrostatic build-up and eliminates the risk of electric shock from electrical equipment or live parts.
Manufacturing and automotive industries work with a lot of electronic equipment, so anti-static features are quite important here.
Chemical splashes and slippery surfaces
In the chemical sector, chemical burns are a primary concern, as spills usually end up on the feet. Without chemical-resistant shoes, the chemical will burn the material. All the properties and hazards associated with a chemical are available on the MSDS issued by suppliers.
For oily surfaces, employees can lose traction on the floor and fall. That’s why anti-slip shoes are tested on various types of surfaces to correspond to slip resistance standards and grip ratings.
- The SRA grip rating tests shoes on a ceramic tile floor with a diluted soap solution.
- The SRB rating means shoes have been tested on a smooth steel floor coated in glycerol.
- The SRC is the strongest and most reliable rating, meaning the safety shoes have passed both the SRA and SRB ratings.
Fending off extreme temperatures
In cold environments, frostbite and hypothermia are quite frequent. So, keeping feet warm is a top priority. In hot weather, insulated shoes prevent feet from sweating and slipping inside the shoes, thus, minimize the risk of falls and trips.