According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, approximately 50,000 foot-related injuries are reported every year. Slips, trips, falls, cuts, electrical shocks, extreme heat, punctures, falling objects, and lacerations are among the leading causes of leg and foot injuries. Wearing the right work boots remains one of the most effective methods of preventing foot-related injuries and illnesses. Considering that different workplaces present different hazards, it’s important to choose the right work boots for your job. Here are some of the most common work boots and their best applications.
Steel Toe Work Boots
Just like their name suggests, steel toe work boots come with a safety toe that is made of steel. They are designed to protect your toes against rolling machinery and falling objects. Introduced more than 80 years ago, these work boots have been the safety standard for people who work in manufacturing, construction as well as material transportation. Also, they are the most affordable safety boots that you can find on the market today. The main drawback of steel toe work boots is that they are quite heavy and bulky, compared to the others. Also, their small toe box makes them uncomfortable to wear for long hours. Furthermore, they only offer limited insulation, making them unsuitable for cold weather. Steel toe work boots will also conduct electricity and set off metal detectors. Therefore, if your workplace has electrical currents and hazards, steel toe work boots are not ideal for such environments.
Composite Toe Work Boots
If you work in an environment where you only need medium protection levels, then you should opt for composite toe boots. These boots are made of different materials like fiber, plastic, carbon, or fiberglass. You may also come across some that are made of Kevlar. Composite toe work boots are suitable in high or low temperatures since they don’t heat up or become cold like metal. Also, they are much lighter compared to steel toe boots, making them perfect for jobs that involve plenty of movement. Furthermore, these work boots will not trigger metal detectors or conduct electricity. Therefore, if you will be passing metal detectors frequently, then composite toe work boots are ideal for such situations. Their main disadvantage is that they will not offer as much protection as steel toe work boots or alloy toe work boots.
Alloy Toe Work Boots
These work boots feature a safety toe made of lightweight materials such as titanium and aluminum. Alloy toes are approximately 50% lighter than steel. Also, the toe cap is a tad thinner, which gives your toes more wiggle room. As you might expect, alloy toe work boots are a bit more expensive, compared to steel toe work boots. However, the comfort level and safety that they offer is worth their price. Just like steel toe work boots, alloy toe boots will also set off metal detectors. Therefore, they can become an annoyance and an inconvenience if you have to go in and out of secured areas frequently.
Waterproof Work Boots
During the course of your work, there is a high chance that you will come across wet surfaces, or you might even get caught in a downpour. You may also come into contact with various types of liquids, chemical agents, acids, cleaning detergents, as well as organic liquids, just to name a few. Without adequate protection, you may end up with injuries and burns, if these liquids come into contact with your feet. And this is where waterproof work boots come in. Waterproof work boots are leak-proof, meaning they will keep water and other liquids out, thus helping to keep your feet dry.
It’s important to note that waterproof work boots and water-resistant work boots are not one and the same thing. While both types of boots are designed to protect the feet against different types of liquids, they are not interchangeable. Waterproof work boots are fitted with a waterproof inner bootie such as Gore-Tex. The breathable and waterproof membrane is sewn into the boot, thus helping to prevent water from seeping to the foot. For water-resistant boots, their upper material, whether synthetic or leather, has been treated to repel water. The water repellent material is mainly silicone. The water repellent material or treatment will wear off with time, which means that you have to treat them regularly. Therefore, make sure you choose a type that suits your work conditions.
Electrical Hazard Work Boots
Electricians, engineers, maintenance workers and anyone else who works directly or indirectly with electricity, are exposed to electrical hazards. Contact with electrical equipment, tools, machines, and overhead power lines can all lead to serious injuries and fatalities. If you are exposed to such hazards, your safety should start from the ground up. And this is where electrical hazard work boots come in.
Electrical hazard (EH) boots are made of non-conductive materials, to prevent your feet and ankles from completing an electrical circuit. They usually have an EH rating on them, meaning they have been tested and approved by the American Society for Testing and Materials or ASTM. All electrical hazard work boots must completely prevent the flow of electrical currents through them into the ground. Also, they will prevent electrocution in case a worker steps on a live wire.
One of the main features of EH work boots is their thick, and durable insulated sole. Apart from electrical hazard protection, the thick and durable rubber outsole is also slip-resistant, abrasion-resistant and water-resistant. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), electrical hazard safety boots should be non-conductive. They should also protect the wearer against open circuits of up to 600 volts in dry conditions. Also, electrical hazard boots must be used together with other insulating equipment.
Slip-resistant Work Boots
Slips, trips and falls are among the leading causes of accidents at job sites. These accidents are usually caused by unsuitable floor coverings, uneven floor surfaces, oily or wet surfaces, poor housekeeping, poor lighting, electrical cords and other similar hazards. They usually cause serious injuries to construction workers, installers, oil workers, plumbers, ambulance personnel, nurses, chefs, cooks and anyone else whose workplace has slipping and tripping hazards.
Slip-resistant work boots can help to prevent such hazards. When buying footwear for slippery surfaces, you should opt for a pair that is both oil and slip-resistant. You should also check the depth and space of the treads on the outsole as well as the shape of the tread design. The design of the treads, shape, and spacing, will all affect the level of slip resistance. For the best traction, you should choose a pair of shoes whose outsole features small incisions or snipes, dividing the tread shape into different movable parts.
Puncture-resistant Work Boots
Construction sites, factory environments, industrial kitchens, are full of sharp objects like pieces of metal, screws, nails, and spikes, among others. Without proper foot protection, these sharp objects can pierce your foot and deposit debris and bacteria deep into your body, causing injuries and dangerous infections. Puncture-resistant work boots are designed to protect your feet against such hazards. They are fitted with a protective plate, which is embedded in the shoe between the outsole and the insole. The protective plate is usually made of steel or woven fabric.
Puncture-resistant work boots with a steel plate tend to be cheaper than those that have a plate made of non-woven fabrics. Steel midsole work boots will protect your feet against sharp and tiny objects such as nails. Boots with a steel protective plate will also conduct heat, cold and electricity. Therefore, you may need heat resistant soles, thermal liners or electrical hazard protection, if you are exposed to heat, cold or electrical hazards at your workplace.
Woven fabric protective plates are more flexible and lighter than their steel counterparts. Also, it’s more comfortable and has a decent temperature and abrasion resistance. It will not conduct heat, cold or electricity. Furthermore, it doesn’t set off metal detectors. It’s designed to protect the feet against thicker penetrating objects such as rocks.
Metatarsal Work Boots
Metatarsal bones are a series of five bones located on the top part of the foot, extending from the ankles to the toes. Considering their location, these bones are vulnerable to fracturing and breaking, especially if a heavy object lands on the foot. Metatarsal guards are designed to protect these bones against heavy objects that may land on the foot. Metatarsal guards play various roles such as:
- Impact protection: One of the key functions of metatarsal work boots is to protect your feet against heavy forces, blows and impacts from above and the side. In case something lands or hits your feet, you can rely on metatarsal guards to protect your feet.
- Prevent foot severing: People who work with high-powered cutting tools are exposed to gashes and cuts from blades. Metatarsal work boots will prevent such tools from cutting off your foot. Besides preventing foot severing, metatarsal work boots will also protect your feet and toes against penetration, especially if you work with tools such as nail guns and ramsets.
- Protection against harmful chemicals and burns: Welders and anyone else who works in extremely hot environments should never work without metatarsal shoes. Also, people who handle alkalis, acids, fuels, hydrocarbons, and other harmful chemicals should wear metatarsal boots to protect their feet against these hazards.
There are two types of metatarsal work boots – internal metatarsal protection boots and external metatarsal protection boots. External metatarsal boots are fitted with external guards, which cover the outside part of the boot. They are usually folded over the boots, to protect the foot against harmful substances and impacts. Since they are usually worn outside the boot, you have the option of choosing your preferred thickness, depending on the hazards your metatarsal bones are exposed to. The main disadvantage of external metatarsal guards is the reduced flexibility when walking. On the other hand, internal metatarsal guards are embedded into the boots during construction, meaning they are permanent and not removable. Most boots with internal metatarsal protection feature a liquid type pouch, which is more flexible and softer than the external guards are but still provides adequate protection.
Different work boots provide different levels of protection. Therefore, whether you are tackling a project at home or you are working at a job site, it’s important to choose a pair of work boots that will adequately protect your feet, based on the hazards you are facing and the demands of the project you are working on.