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Safety Footwear: A Step in the Right Direction

Published: 01st May 2010

Ian Moses, the Research and Development and PPE Manager for Grampian Fire and Rescue Service is an authority on the benefits and features of various types of Safety Footwear. In his article he contributes a generous insight into the types of footwear products available on the market today and highlights the features of various types of footwear appropriate to certain situations.

In my thirty years of working with the Fire and Rescue service, I have found for certain that there are literally dozens and dozens of safety footwear manufacturers located all over the world. Visit any of the major exhibitions held around the world annually, and you will see a vast array of safety footwear of all different kinds manufactured from various textiles, leather and man made materials.

"changes in the footwear standards have spurred the manufacturing industry into producing some really excellent products"

In fact it’s a most exciting period in the safety footwear market. I have never known a time where there have been so many innovations. The quality has never been better than it is today, and with the changes in the footwear standards, this has spurred the manufacturing industry into producing some really excellent products.

Coupled with the fact that there are now variations of things like composite protective toe caps being widely used, along with the introduction of compressed polymer protective mid soles. These changes have allowed the manufacturers to reduce the weight of protective footwear significantly, which allows for a greater degree of comfort for the wearer. In studies carried out in the United States some years ago, they looked at the differences between the use of rubber fire fighting boots and the latest designs in leather footwear, it had been identified that when footwear was being worn for extended periods, the weight of the boots had a significant effect on the fire-fighters backs.

This in no way detracts from the performance and protection that rubber boots offer, indeed in some cases, it may be much more appropriate for rubber footwear to be worn in the severest of weather, or where chemicals may be a major hazard, but the weight of footwear must always be a consideration.

Another major step forward in the fire fighting protective footwear market was the introduction of removable lining systems. These liners are fully washable, they assist in allowing leather footwear to dry out faster, once the liner has been removed. The other major advantage of having these removable lining systems, is that it also allows for easy decontamination of the liner should there be penetration through the stitching of the boots, and it also allows for the inner parts of the boots to dry faster as well.

Another big advantage of having a removable lining system is this allows the liner(s) to be fully inspected and if necessary, repairs can be carried out if required. These innovations can extend the life of the footwear and increase the overall protection offered to the wearers.

It is a credit to many manufacturers with the changes that has come into the market place over the last few years with the introduction of a big increase in the provision of safety footwear for females. For far too long it has been deemed acceptable that footwear that had been supplied in a predominantly male environment would be acceptable to be issued to female employees and even though it was identified on many occasions that the male footwear supplied was less than suitable, because female sizing was not readily available in the market place, the female work force were forced to wear footwear that did not fit properly. It would be interesting to calculate how many working days were and still are lost each year through the issue of ill-fitting footwear.

"It would be interesting to calculate how many working days were and still are lost each year through the issue of ill-fitting footwear."

The other things that have been changed are the availability of new closure systems, in the past there was little choice of available closure systems, the choices were, from the standard style pull or lace up boots.  In today’s market, the old choices are still available, but there are a few variations that have been introduced, that were never available before.

The pull on boot is still very popular, and is widely used throughout the world in many applications. The design is relatively uncomplicated, and allows the wearer to don and doff the boots easily. It is also very good for allowing heat transfer from the foot area out through the top opening of the footwear.

The speed lace boot which normally offers a combination of laces and zip closures, allows the wearer to adjust the footwear via the laces, and then by use of the zip, doff and don the boot with relative speed and ease. Once the adjustments have been carried out, there should be no need to carry out any other fitting adjustments. The boots have proved to be very successful with emergency services and offer excellent support and ankle protection.

The use of hook and loop fasteners has also proved very popular, particularly in the lighter varieties of protective footwear, including footwear designed for emergency service workers during flooding or swift water rescue scenarios, allowing the users to carry out many adjustments whilst wearing gloves, and where it becomes very difficult to adjust the footwear when it becomes wet,  it also give much more flexibility if the footwear is being worn over latex or neoprene socks, which may not be a perfect foot fit.

Another system that was introduced a year ago, using ski boot technology, was the introduction of an adjustment system which uses coated stainless steel fine cable or wire.

The closure system is operated by a pull and push knob, that when twisted, fully adjusts the body of the boot to encapsulate the wearers ankle(s) and shins. You simply push the knob in and twist it, to release the adjustment or to take the boot off, the button is pulled out, and the fastening is released immediately.

I am sure that manufacturers research and develop lots of alternatives that are currently being used in other applications, particularly footwear that is currently used in the fashion or sportswear markets.

Of all the PPE issued, the provision of safety footwear I would consider to be of low priority by lots of buyers, and in many cases the decision to buy is based more on the unit cost as opposed to what actually is required to fit the needs of the wearer. That of course does not mean that inexpensive footwear is not value for money, the production techniques used in the manufacture of footwear has never been better, particularly in Eastern Europe and Asia. As in anything you buy, you do get what you pay for, and in many cases for a slight increase in the cost of the product, you may get a much better deal than you might initially think.

"As in anything you buy, you do get what you pay for, and in many cases for a slight increase in the cost of the product, you may get a much better deal than you might initially think."

As you are aware, safety footwear covers a multitude of applications, from Industrial, Utilities, Military, Fire, and Police. Each of those may need different types dependant on the job they have to do. If we look at the Fire Service for an instant, they require safety footwear for normal duties carried out at the stations; the fire-fighters require safety footwear to protect them from heat, flame, impact and crush.

Alternative footwear may be required to protect the wearers from chemical contamination, and lighter footwear may be required for use in wild land fire fighting applications, and indeed even more alternatives that may be more suitable to be used in road traffic incidents and other specialist rescues. In some cases, the amount of footwear that may be required by the users can be satisfied by one specialist style that does not compromise the wearers in any way, in other cases, unique footwear will be required.

In the industrial market, the applications are almost endless; these cover such areas as construction, engineering production, light and heavy assemble work, logistics, and oil and gas production. Not only that, but many of these applications identify different types of footwear, each may require different performance levels for the risks and hazards that may be faced by the wearers.

How do you select the correct type of footwear for your employees?

The whole process should begin with a risk assessment to identify just what hazards the wearers may face during normal working. Once that has been done, then you will know just what level of protection is required to be supplied. This covers not only physical hazards, but the environment that the employees work in. You should also look at the duration of wear, if the wearers only have to wear the safety footwear for a short period of time this will have a bearing on what you should be looking at. If however the wearer is required to wear the footwear for an extended duration, then this should be considered. These are all factors that will help the buyer/employer to issue the correct type of protective footwear.

If your business requires that wearers are exposed to the elements, i.e. rain, snow etc, the choices I would suggest would direct you towards leather footwear, where the exposure might be intermittent, or rubber footwear, where the users are exposed to prolonged exposure. Not only would this choice of footwear assist in keeping the wearer’s feet dry but also relatively warm as well if used in the most hostile environments.

Where the workforce are using safety footwear over prolonged periods of time, where they may be working in relatively warm conditions, it may be worth considering looking at lighter weight footwear constructed in protective textiles. This will obviously have an effect on the breathability of the footwear, and may assist in the evaporation of moisture from the inside. If however it is identified that a more robust outer shell, because of the risk of penetration, the perhaps a more robust material would be appropriate, then the choice of footwear that uses breathable membrane technology fitted may better suit the wearer.

Where it has been identified that static electricity may cause problems, then anti-static footwear should be chosen. If on the other hand, the wearer is at risk from electric shock, the anti-static footwear should not be used; the product chosen should offer the wearer protection from that particular hazard. Buyers should be aware that although anti-static footwear gives limited protection from electrical current, this diminishes with the condition the footwear is used in, and the wear on the sole. Indeed most reputable suppliers or manufacturers will be more than happy to give advice on the protective performances of the footwear they supply.

One of the things, an item I consider to be of prime importance, and should always be considered, is that the footwear must fit and be comfortable. Employees forced to wearing poor fitting or uncomfortable footwear, boots or shoes, are rarely happy people. Where the risks and hazards dictate the employees must wear a certain type of protective footwear, there are things that can be done to make this a less onerous thing.

The use of gel insoles can make the wearing of safety footwear a different experience completely. The types of socks that are worn also has an effect of the comfort as well, where we have found and socks designed to help wick sweat from the wearer has a big effect when the users are wearing the footwear for prolonged periods on time.

"Employees forced to wearing poor fitting or uncomfortable footwear, boots or shoes, are rarely happy people"

Finally, we have spoken a lot about the responsibilities that the employers have when issuing protective footwear, it should be remembered that the wearers also have a responsibility to maintain the PPE they have been issued with. Broken laces, exposed toecaps, worn tread, or tread that is blocked with debris, footwear that is contaminated, cuts or damage to the outer body of the boot - none of that is acceptable. It is important that employees are reminded of the importance of maintaining their footwear to the best level they can. Not only does this extend the life of the product, but it makes perfectly good sense.

Biography

Ian Moses Research and Development, and Personal Protective Equipment Manager Grampian Fire and Rescue Service. 19 North Anderson Drive Aberdeen AB15 6DW

Tel. +441225 788690 Cell. +44 07870 557086 ian.moses@grampianfrs.org.uk

I have worked for the fire and rescue service for thirty years, and have been involved in specifying PPE since 1986.  I am currently a committee member of four British Standards Committees

A member of National Fire Protection Association.

For more information on Safety Footwear products please visit http://www.osedirectory.com/product.php?type=health&product_id=18

Published: 01st May 2010 in Health and Safety Middle East

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Ian Moses
I have worked with Grampian Fire and Rescue Services for 30 years and am currently Research and Development Manager. My specialties are in Firefighters Personal Protective Equipment, and have been involved with these specifications for the last 25 years. I am a committee member of four British standard committees. I am coming to an end of an excellent career where I have had the privilege of protecting Firefighters.