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Stepping Out of Danger

Published: 17th Jun 2014

Getting A Grip On Protective Footwear

Declan Chukwuma Umege discusses the industrial footwear challenges present in Nigeria’s oil and gas industry.

Introduction

According to American Training Resources, more than 600 injuries per day result from slips and falls. In fact, around 20 percent of all occupational accidents involve slips, trips and falls. They are the second leading cause of work related deaths and the third leading cause of disabling work injuries.

A recent survey into footwear usage in the Nigerian oil and gas industry revealed that foot injuries are often a result of employees’ inadequate work shoes that do not protect them from the hazards they face on the job. When considering industrial footwear, its design, construction and material must all offer appropriate protection against the task in hand.

Accidents are inevitable if an employer fails to:

Determine the appropriate protection required for his/her employees

Ensure that each employee wears the appropriate footwear

Manufacturers of quality safety footwear design and develop whole ranges of protective features for their products and test them to ensure that they meet Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requirements and American National Standards Institute (ANSI) standards.

Section 8.22(2) of the Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) Regulation states that "to determine appropriate protection (under section 1) the following factors must be considered: slipping, uneven terrain, abrasion, ankle protection and foot support, crushing potential, temperature extremes, corrosive substances, puncture hazards, and electrical shock, as well as any other recognisable hazards." The assessment is based on the work procedures and arrangements that exist in the workplace at any given time.

After an evaluation of the potential hazards of an employee’s job, the employer will decide on the type of protection required. For a shoe to be effective, the protection must be matched to the hazard.

The Nigerian context

Modern leather production started in Nigeria in the 1940s, with the first factory established by the John Holt Group in 1949 (Azinawa, 2006). In the 1980s Nigeria had more than 40 operational tanneries, but by the following decade only four remained – none of which were indigenously owned.

As reported in Business Eye magazine, constraints leading to the decline of Nigeria’s tanneries in the 1990s included:

Lack of access to finance

Inadequate infrastructure, including power, water and transport network

Inconsistent economic policies

Poor tanning processes

Unrestricted importation of processed hides and leather products into the country

Poor rearing of livestock, reducing the quality of local hides

Despite the state of Nigeria’s leather industry in the 1990s, in 2009 Nigeria exported more than 600 million square feet of leather. The sector now has the potential to be the country’s second highest foreign exchange earner, after the oil and gas industry.

The 2010 Nigerian Oil and Gas Industry Content Development Bill, among other things, ensures that there will be exclusive consideration given to indigenous Nigerian service companies that can demonstrate:

Ownership of equipment

Employing Nigerian personnel

The capacity to execute work on land and swamp operating areas of the Nigerian oil and gas industry, for contracts and services contained in the schedule of the act

It is worthy of note that this bill has since spurred many indigenous players to commence the process of reviving the once vibrant commercial leather production industry, which formed the basis for industrial footwear manufacture in Nigeria.

Industrial footwear classes

The following sections outline classes of industrial footwear used in the Nigerian oil and gas industry, including slip resistance, puncture resistance, steel toe caps, metatarsal guards and other forms of specialised footwear.

Slip resistance

Traction is a real issue whenever workers have to walk or work on surfaces that are steep or slippery. While no footwear will mitigate 100 percent of slips, shoes with slip resistant soles can help minimise your risks.

Puncture resistance

If workers encounter exposed nails or other sharp objects on the job, they run the risk of puncture or even impalement. Besides being a painful injury, a puncture wound is difficult to clean and can introduce the risk of infections such as tetanus. A shoe designed specifically to resist punctures will therefore give the most protection. This usually consists of a flexible steel insert that runs along the length of the shoe and has been tested to meet ANSI standards for puncture protection. The puncture shield should be light and flexible enough that workers will not even realise it is there – until they need it.

Steel toe caps

Our toes are often exposed to injuries, whether we are working near heavy objects or equipment that could deliver a crushing force. The steel toe caps on safety footwear act as protective cages that shield the toes from above and from the sides, while allowing the wearer the freedom and flexibility to walk and work comfortably.

There is a myth that shoes with steel toe caps are uncomfortable, because it is wrongly perceived that they are cold or will pinch the foot. The toe caps are effectively insulated from the foot as part of the shoe’s construction. Likewise, they are designed to accommodate the toes without pinching or rubbing. In addition to shoes with steel toe guards, similar toe guards made of composite materials are available for environments where metal can pose problems.

Metatarsal guards

Steel toe caps, while offering excellent toe protection, do not extend to protect the top of the foot, otherwise known as the metatarsal area. If workers’ feet are exposed to significant drop hazards, steel toe caps alone may not offer sufficient protection.

A metatarsal guard can be either internal or external to the shoe. In order to meet ANSI specifications, the guard must be built into the shoe while it is being assembled and not attached later as a separate piece of equipment.

Specialised footwear

If working around electricity, shoes that are designed to be electrical hazard (EH) protective will reduce the risk of electric shocks. They are intended to provide a secondary source of protection against accidental contact with live electrical circuits, energised conductors and electrical devices under dry conditions.

Conductive footwear drains static charge from the body to the ground, but can also make workers vulnerable to electric shocks if they come into contact with open circuits. It should therefore only be worn in environments where a spark from the body presents a safety hazard.

In some workplaces, such as in electronic component assembly, static charges must be eliminated. Footwear that is rated as static dissipative (SD) will reduce the static charge to your body while still offering resistance to energy flow.

Procurement challenges

As outlined below, a number of challenges are associated with footwear procurement and administration in Nigeria’s oil and gas industry.

Correct selection

Since there is no such thing as one single type of safety shoe that is appropriate for every working environment, your footwear requires careful selection from the many safety features available.

Influence of management

The negative influence of top management interfering in the procurement of industrial footwear can be a great concern, particularly among indigenous and marginal oil field producers. The contract and procurement processes of many companies involve both technical and commercial evaluation. Top members of management have been known to influence the technical evaluation criteria for vendor prequalification, knowing full well that once the vendor sails through technical evaluation, that the commercial evaluation can then be manipulated in favour of the nominated vendors - often close associates. Such manipulations impact on the quality of equipment and the safety of personnel.

Internal procurement processes

Internal contract and procurement processes can be compromised through leakage of commercial bid information by members of the contract and procurement teams, particularly from more technically qualified vendors to less technically qualified vendors. This could lead to the eventual emergence of less competent vendors, with the effect of this compromise potentially resulting in accidents.

Imported alternatives

There is currently a disturbing trend in Nigeria, in which suppliers are travelling to countries such as China to request the manufacture of lower quality alternatives to proven industrial products. In a reported case of a slip incident on a rig contracted by an indigenous Nigerian oil production company, personnel fell onto the rig floor due, at least in part, to the fact that they were wearing counterfeit safety footwear. The root cause of the incident was traced to an absence of credible contract and procurement procedures. A member of the company’s top management capitalised on that fact and manipulated the contract and procurement process.

Absence of robust PPE policy

Every company should have a robust personal protective equipment (PPE) policy that details how the protective equipment, including footwear, should be distributed, along with the method and frequency of issuance. Where no such policy exists, issuing industrial footwear could be met with numerous challenges.

In situations where new footwear is issued to personnel without return of the previous pair, investigations in Nigeria have revealed that personnel have continued to wear the old and potentially hazardous footwear so they could sell the new pair. With no solid PPE policy in place, such staff could then return to management after a short while with complaints of worn out footwear.

It is common to see safety boots - even with company specific branding - being worn by artisans and technicians on the road side. When accosted, many of these people claim that they bought the footwear from the open markets.

Imported products

Most industrial footwear in Nigeria is imported. The cost of the locally made products is usually higher than the cost of imported merchandise, causing a shift in patronage from locally made to imported goods.

Absence of government support

Support and incentives could come in the form of credit facilities or the provision of a much needed infrastructure, including elements such as electricity and good roads. When these are lacking, the local manufacture of industrial footwear becomes hampered.

Footwear maintenance

Safety shoes represent an investment and should be regularly inspected and maintained to ensure they are comfortable and fit for purpose. Studies have revealed, however, that in most cases maintenance culture is lacking. Safety shoes should be kept dry, clean, conditioned and protected. Even carefully maintained shoes will wear out eventually and need to be replaced. Soles and heels should be regularly checked for significant wear, remembering that when the tread pattern starts to disappear, so too does traction.

Conclusion

Protective footwear is the last line of defence not only against foot injuries, but also injuries related to slips, trips and falls. Often on their feet for the majority of the day, if workers’ footwear is uncomfortable it could pose a distraction, impeding all other working activities.

Often taken for granted is a confidence that our tools, and protection, will deliver when we need them most. Equipping a worker with insufficient, inappropriate and at times counterfeit protective equipment, however, serves only to generate a false sense of security, leading workers into unnecessary danger.

Published: 17th Jun 2014 in Health and Safety Middle East

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Declan Chukwuma Umege