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Footwear as PPE - Application Specific Footwear Choice and Training in Use

Published: 10th Nov 2010

When engineering, work practice and administrative controls are not feasible or do not provide sufficient protection, employers must provide personal protective equipment (PPE) to their employees and ensure its use.

Personal protective equipment, commonly referred to as PPE, is equipment worn to minimise exposure to a variety of hazards. Examples of PPE include such items as gloves, foot and eye protection, protective hearing devices (earplugs, muffs) hard hats, respirators and full body suits.

Hazards exist in every workplace in many different forms: sharp edges, falling objects, flying sparks, chemicals, noise and a myriad of other potentially dangerous situations. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires that employers protect their employees from workplace hazards that can cause injury.

Controlling a hazard at its source is the best way to protect employees.

Standing is a natural human posture and by itself poses no particular health hazard. After all, we were born bipeds and are meant to walk erect.

However, working in a standing position on a regular basis can cause sore feet, swelling of the legs, varicose veins, general muscular fatigue, low back pain, stiffness in the neck and shoulders, and other health problems.

These are common complaints among construction workers, miners, oil and gas employees, telecommunication workers, utility workers, labourers, machine operators - just to mention a few occupations where workers’ jobs require prolonged standing and walking.

A person’s body is affected by the arrangement of the work area and by?the tasks that he does while standing or walking. The layout of the workstation, and the placement of tools, machinery or valves controls that the worker needs to operate or observe will determine, and as rule, limit the body positions that the worker can assume while standing.

As a result, the worker has fewer body positions to choose from, and the positions themselves are more rigid and inflexible. This gives the worker less freedom to move around and to rest the hard working muscles. This lack of flexibility in choosing body positions contributes to health problems.

Excessive walking on slippery or unstable surfaces such as in oil fields and rigs, or construction sites offer other risk factors to employees.

Keeping the body in an upright position requires considerable muscular effort that is particularly unhealthy especially while standing motionless or in one spot or during excessive walking. It effectively reduces the blood supply to the loaded muscles and insufficient blood flow accelerates the onset of fatigue and causes pain in the muscles of the legs, back and neck (these are the muscles used to maintain an upright position). This pain comes in the form of muscle cramping, also called muscle spasms. No matter what you call them, they hurt and impede the ability to work, sleep or rest.

Then there is the matter of excessive walking. When a worker has to walk too much, this translates to a suboptimal workplace design and the potential for slips, falls, fatigue, muscle cramping and inflammation and pain. The prolonged walking can also cause neck, back, hip, knee and ankle/foot joint problems, which may become chronic over time.

Quality of footwear as PPE, and the type of flooring materials and surfaces are major factors contributing to standing or walking comfort and injury prevention. Foot injuries are common in the construction industry (including demolition) and usually result from the following causes:

• Crushing caused by heavy objects falling onto part or all of the foot

• Foot penetration due to standing or walking onto a sharp object, e.g. nails left embedded in timber

• Contact with irritant or corrosive chemicals, e.g. cement burns when pouring concrete

NOTE: The selection of footwear for use with chemicals should form part of the assessment required by Regulation 6 of the Canadian Occupational Safety Health, (COSHH) Regulations 1988.

The Personal Protective Equipment at Work Regulations 1992 govern the provision and use of protective clothing, including footwear. Where a risk assessment identifies the need for safety footwear to protect against one or more of the risks outlined in this sheet, this should be provided free of charge by the employer or the self-employed.

Types of footwear

Where a significant risk of foot injuries exists on construction sites the footwear should:

• Have protected (steel) toe caps capable of resisting a heavy falling object • Be strong enough to withstand the stresses placed upon it

• If there is an additional risk of foot penetration the footwear should incorporate a steel mid-sole or other armouring to prevent this type of injury

The footwear should be robust enough and have sufficient soles that grip for the working environment. It should also be:

• Comfortable

• Flexible to reduce the risk of tiring the feet and legs

• Capable of absorbing perspiration

• Waterproof (where required)

The following types of safety footwear are commonly used in the construction industry:

1. The Safety Boot or Shoe. This is the most common type of safety footwear and it has a steel toe-cap and most types have a protected mid-sole. They are usually worn by trades such as groundworkers, bricklayers or demolition workers.

2. Wellington Boots. These should be worn to protect against water and corrosive materials such as cement. They are usually made from rubber but are available in polyurethane and PVC, which is warmer and more resistant to chemicals, oils, petrol, greases and sunlight.

Wellington boots can be obtained with corrosion resistant toe-caps, rot-proof insoles, ankle bone padding and cotton linings. They range from ankle boots to chest-high waders. This type of footwear should be worn for operations where water or other liquids may be present, e.g. in excavations, sewer renovation or concrete pours. For site use the boots should also have impact resistance (steel) toe caps.

3. Safety ‘Trainers’. In recent years a range of softer, more flexible safety footwear, known as safety trainers, have been introduced. These are fitted with a protective toe-cap and anti-slip soles. While their resistance to sole penetration is usually less than that provided by the safety boot, they can be worn for a variety of construction activities provided the working area is free from materials likely to penetrate the wearer’s foot.

Typical trades that may find safety trainers useful include scaffolders and roofing workers, where the level of grip and flexibility of the footwear is important as a safety feature in helping to ensure an adequate foothold when working at heights.

Storage and use of safety footwear

Safety footwear should be kept in good condition, checked regularly and discarded if worn or deteriorated. Laces should be checked and replaced if necessary. Materials lodged into the tread of the sole should be removed. The stitching should be checked for loose, worn or cut seams. Spraying the upper layers of new footwear with a silicone spray or applying a protective wax will give extra protection against wet conditions.

The worker should be aware that rest periods are important elements of the work. Rest periods should be used to relax when muscles are tired, to move around when muscles are stiff, to walk when work restricts the worker’s ability to change postures or positions, and so on. The worker should also be encouraged to report discomforts experienced during work. It may result in correcting working conditions.

All these elements - training and supervision, coupled with active worker input - can result in sound work practices. It must be remembered that a well-designed job and workplace are essential to healthy and safe work. Without these, good work practices cannot be effective.

Footwear can be the part of the answer to reduce the risk factors of prolonged standing or walking - feet can only be as comfortable as the footwear permits.

Dos and don’ts of footwear

DO wear shoes that fit properly. DO wear shoes that do not change the shape of your foot. DO choose shoes that provide a firm grip for the heel. If the back of the shoe is too wide or too soft, the shoe will slip, causing instability and soreness. DO wear shoes that allow freedom to move your toes. Pain and fatigue result if shoes are too narrow or too shallow. DO ensure that shoes have arch supports.

Lack of arch support causes flattening of the foot and increased discomfort. DO wear shoes with lace-up fastenings. DO keep the soles clean and free from oil, grease or other contaminants which can reduce the grip and cause slips and falls. DO tighten the lace instep of your footwear firmly.

The foot is prevented from slipping inside the footwear. DO use padding under the shoe tongue if you suffer from tenderness over the bones at the top of the foot. DO use a shock-absorbing cushioned insole when working on metal or cement floors. DO choose footwear according to the hazards at the workplace. DO select safety footwear, if required, that is approved and carries the proper ratings for the hazard. DO select footwear taking into account individual fit and comfort. Try them on.

Don’ts

DO NOT wear flat shoes. DO NOT wear shoes with heels higher than 5 cm (2 inches). DO NOT wear flimsy shoes or sandals on the worksite. DO NOT wear footwear that has been so damaged that the protection is reduced. DO NOT replace the laces with bits of wire and string. DO NOT leave the footwear in wet or contaminated areas.

And so you realise it is very important to understand the footwear types of as PPE and the potential workplace hazards.

• There has to be basic knowledge of the types of hazard and where they are located through conducting a hazard assessment of the workplace

• Select appropriate footwear for a variety of circumstances

• Understand what kind of training is needed in the proper use and care of the footwear

• Address all workplace hazards or PPE requirements

• The information, methods and procedures are based on the OSHA requirements for PPE as set forth in the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) at 29 CFR 1910.132 (General requirements); 29 (General requirements); 29 CFR 1915.156 (Foot protection)

• Safety footwear must meet ANSI minimum compression and impact performance standards in ANSI Z41-1991 (American National Standard for

Personal Protection - Protective Footwear) or provide equivalent protection. Footwear purchased before July 5, 1994, must meet or provide equivalent protection to the earlier ANSI Standard (ANSI Z41.1-1967). All ANSI approved footwear has a protective toe and offers impact and compression protection. But the type and amount of protection is not always the same. Different footwear protects in different ways. Check the product’s labelling or consult the manufacturer to make sure the footwear will protect the user from the hazards they face.

Foot and leg protection choices include the following:

• Leggings protect the lower legs and feet from heat hazards such as molten metal or welding sparks • Safety snaps allow leggings to be removed quickly

• Metatarsal guards protect the instep area from impact and compression. Made of aluminum, steel, fiber or plastic, these guards may be strapped to the outside of shoes

• Toe guards fit over the toes of regular shoes to protect the toes from impact and compression hazards. They may be made of steel, aluminum or plastic. Shin guards protect the lower legs and feet, and may be used in combination with toe guards when greater protection is needed

• Safety shoes have impact-resistant toes and heat-resistant soles which protect the feet against hot work surfaces common in construction, rigs, roofing, paving and hot metal industries. The metal insoles of some safety shoes protect against puncture wounds

• Safety shoes may also be designed to be electrically conductive to prevent the buildup of static electricity in areas with the potential for explosive atmospheres, or nonconductive to protect workers from workplace electrical hazards • Special Purpose Shoes: electrically conductive shoes provide protection against the buildup of static electricity • Employees working in explosive and hazardous locations such as explosives manufacturing facilities or oil rigs must wear conductive shoes to reduce the risk of static electricity buildup on the body that could produce a spark and cause an explosion or fire

• Foot powder should not be used in conjunction with protective conductive footwear because it provides insulation, reducing the conductive ability of the shoes • Silk, wool and nylon socks can produce static electricity and should not be worn with conductive footwear. Conductive shoes must be removed when the task requiring their use is completed

Note: Employees exposed to electrical hazards must never wear conductive shoes.

• Electrical hazard, safety-toe shoes are nonconductive and will prevent the wearers’ feet from completing an electrical circuit to the ground. These shoes can protect against open circuits of up to 600 volts in dry conditions and should be used in conjunction with other insulating equipment, and additional precautions, to reduce the risk of a worker becoming a path for?hazardous electrical energy. The insulating protection of electrical hazard, safety-toe shoes may be compromised if the shoes become wet, the soles are worn through, metal particles become embedded in the sole or heel, or workers touch conductive, grounded items

Note: Nonconductive footwear must not be used in explosive or hazardous locations.

• Foundry Shoes: in addition to insulating the feet from the extreme heat of molten metal, foundry shoes keep hot metal from lodging in shoe eyelets, tongues or other shoe parts. These snug-fitting leather or leather-substitute shoes have leather or rubber soles and rubber heels. All foundry shoes must have built-in safety toes.

Footwear is as an important variety of PPE as safety glasses, protective coveralls or any other PPE meant to protect the body against hazards. As such, it’s essential to ensure the choice of footwear is correct for the application, the employees are trained properly in its use, and that the footwear is comfortable.

Author

Cynthia L Roth, CEO, Ergonomic Technologies Corp (ETC) T: 516.682.8558 ext.21 E: croth@ergoworld.com W: www.ergoworld.com

Ms Roth has been a professional in the ergonomics industry since 1987.

In 1993 she co-founded Ergonomic Technologies Corp, (ETC), where currently she is the Chairperson of the Board and Chief Executive Officer. She has lectured to the Fortune 500 Companies in the US and abroad and to many international companies. Ms Roth lectures on safety, ergonomics, product designs, future trends, motivating employees, and biomechanics to top engineering universities and colleges around the world.

Ms Roth was elected to the Board of the American Society of Safety Engineers Foundation (ASSEF), served as Vice Chair and Chair and currently serves on the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) Council on Professional Affairs. She has also been appointed as a permanent member of New York State’s Commission on International Trade and has travelled to Brazil, Argentina and Chile on behalf of the State of New York. Ms Roth is a member of the NYC Advisory Board to the Mayor and has also served as a consultant to the Department of Labor, OSHA, Occupational Hazards and CTD News. She represents University of Pittsburgh, as a board member to Fiat Pax (using technology for world peace).

Ms Roth is a published author having written the chapter on Ergonomics for Maynard’s Industrial Engineering Handbook, used by the majority of engineering students worldwide, and wrote the Handbook on Ergonomics for the National Safety Council. Ms Roth received a degree from the University of Pittsburgh as a professional registered nurse with specialties in Occupational Nursing and Biomechanics. She also completed postgraduate work at Cornell University in Labour Relations/Industrial Management. www.osedirectory.com/health-and-safety.php

Published: 10th Nov 2010 in Health and Safety Middle East

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