safety boots

Safety Boots: 8 Critically Important Features That You Should Have

Before safety standards and legislation covering workers' rights and protection from injury at work, the world was different. Foot injuries were a daily reality. Workers became creative and, in the 17th century, adopted safety boots in the form of wooden clogs (sabots) to protect feet from punctures, impacts and crushing. 

In the 20th Century, significant steps were made in creating safer work places and guidelines to protect workers. Defining safety standards and testing the quality and performance of safety shoes and boots means an employer can accurately describe the level of protection their workers need.

Plus, any individual can opt for protective footwear if they intend to do risky activities at home or at work. For example, if you are going to spend a couple of days cutting down trees on your land, you may want to invest in some safety boots with excellent traction on uneven terrains and safety toe shoes to protect your toes from something falling on your foot. 

In 2015 according to the US Bureau of Labor, there were 96,840 foot injuries and a further 105,130 ankle injuries across state and private sectors, each resulting in an average loss of ten working days. Believe it or not, these statistics represent a significant reduction in injuries because today's workplace is more safety-conscious. However, there is still more work to be done and awareness by employers and workers that there is protective footwear out there.

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Potential Injuries Avoided By Safety Boots

The types of potential injuries that safety boots can prevent or reduce include:

  • Slips – oil, ice, wet surfaces, and steep slopes can result in a slip resulting in a damaging fall.
  • Impact – falling objects gain momentum and can severely damage your foot. 
  • Compression – if a horse or vehicle steps or rolls on your foot, or a heavy weight applied over time. 
  • Puncture – sharp objects puncturing the sole or another part of your foot. 
  • Burns – chemical and flames can both cause severe burns.
  • Water – staying in wet feet is harmful to your health.
  • Cold – some working environments require extra protection from the risk of frostbite. 
  • Electricity – live, and static electricity represent hazards to the human body and delicate components. 
  • Dirt -some workplaces need a high hygiene standard, with footwear playing a crucial role. 
  • Fatigue – a day on your feet with insufficient support can increase potential health issues. 

The type of safety shoes appropriate for your workplace will depend on the potential injury types. Most workplaces don't include all the hazards, and the recommended boots and shoes deal with the most probable causes of injury. 

safety boots

Important Features in Safety Boots and Shoes

The American Society of Testing Materials maintains the standards for a host of safety and performance metrics. "ASTM" in a description refers to the standards set by this organization. 

The footwear manufacturer is responsible for testing and certifying its footwear to meet (or exceed) ASTM standards. Manufacturers most frequently quote ASTM F2412 (methods for testing) and ASTM F2413 (safety specifications). When you see ASTM F2413-13, this means the safety standards as revised in 2013. The numbers after the hyphen always refer to the year of issuance or revision. The ASTM designation refers to the safeguards built into the shoe by the manufacturer.

Safety Toe Shoes (Steel, Alloy or Composite Toes Shoes)

When you mention safety boots or safety workwear to most people, they think of steel toe boots, but safety toe shoes may have alloy or composite. The workplace injury with the highest level of awareness is damage to your toes from something falling from a height or a heavy weight on your feet. Resistance to compression (C) and impact (I) go together. When a manufacturer quotes safety standards, you will typically see C/75 and I/75 on the string of letters and numbers. 

C/75 means the work boot with the safety toe will leave your toes undamaged if a 2,500-pound weight ends up on your boots or work shoes. You can get lesser compression resistance, but most go for the maximum.

I/75 means you can drop a 75 lb weight from 18 inches, and your toes will be fine. Again you can have lesser resistance, but most footwear manufacturers offer the maximum. 

Shaped asymmetric toe protection means that the steel, alloy, or composite plate is anatomically shaped for comfort, allowing your toes to flex more naturally but still benefit from protection. 

Steel was the first metal toe protector and is durable and efficient. Today's safety toe shoes move to alloy and composite toes shoes because these are lighter materials. Reducing the weight of the safety boots or shoes means you get less tired while wearing them. If your working environment does not require metal components, then composite toe shoes are your best choice. 

safety shoes

Metatarsal Protection (Mt) In Safety Boots

The metatarsal area of your foot is the horizontal part that sticks out to join your toes to your ankle. It can be injured by impact as easily as your toes (phalanges). Adding an internal or external guard to this area (typically thin steel or plastic) extends the impact resistance to this vulnerable area of your foot. Mt/75 is equivalent to I/75 but refers to the protection offered to your metatarsal area. 

If your work boot doesn't include metatarsal protection, you can add a lace-on protector for added protection to this area. 

Puncture Resistance (PR) In Safety Shoes

Puncture-resistant safety boots and shoes incorporate plates or other protective materials in the midsole to reduce the potential of something sharp piercing the bottom of your foot. It is not puncture-proof, and you may still be injured in some circumstances - typically by jumping down onto a protruding nail that you did not see. 

The certified puncture resistance is protection from penetration of 270 pounds force across the outsole. The puncture resistance refers to the bottom of the safety boot or shoe and not sideways penetration through the upper. 

Electrical Protection In Safety Shoes

There are three main types of safety shoes involved in working with electricity:

  • Anti-static – dissipates static build-up before it is harmful.
  • Non-conductive – protects against live wires.
  • Conductive – disperse static electricity into the ground immediately and prevents build-up, also known as ESD footwear. Not suitable as protection against live wires, and it is workplace specific, not for everyday wear.

EH (Electrical Hazard) safety boots protect secondary protection against electric shock from stepping on a live wire. These safety shoes are often helpful in the construction industry. 

Your work environment will specify what protection is necessary for electrical hazards. 

safety boots

Slip Resistance In Safety Boots

There are no federal standards for testing slip resistance because it is difficult to test and quantify. If you walk on a greasy surface, it is challenging for any outsole to get a grip on that surface. The grip and traction provided by an outsole depend on the tread pattern and the material. ASTM F16-77 provides criteria for whole shoe testing for specific workplace conditions. 

Rubber compounds for slip resistance depend on the manufacturer, and essentially finding good slip-resistant soles depends on trying different brands in your workplace. Reliable branded manufacturers will honestly represent their products, but you need to be cautious about slip-resistant claims in the absence of a standard. 

Recommended Slip Resistance Safety Shoes

Chemical Hazard Safeguards In Safety Shoes

Chemical-resistant footwear will use one of the following materials:

  • Rubber – excellent for most acids and ammonia; degraded by blood and animal fats.
  • Neoprene – lightweight and resistant to most petroleum, oils, and acids.  Excellent for food and oil industry applications.
  • PVC – resists some acids and oils, but can be formulated for specific chemical resistance.

Your workplace may specify the best safety footwear, but otherwise, looking for footwear that meets the National Fire Protection Association requirements gives you a clear indication of what protection is available for chemical protection and burn resistance. 

safety boots

Cold Protection

If your working environment is less than -10 degrees, you need footwear to keep your feet warm, and that means a minimum of 200g insulation, but more (you can get up to 1,000g) is usually better. The other points to watch for are:

  • Quality of insulation – extra loft or air means compression reduces the value of insulating properties. Thinsulate is the market leader.
  • Still warm when wet or slightly damp – some materials lose their insulating properties unless completely dry.
  • All-round insulation – you can lose heat rapidly through all parts of your feet. 

Cold often combines with ice, and ice-traction is challenging, often involving spikes that damage standard surfaces. You can get cold-weather rubber formulations that are stickier and provide more grip in cold, slippery conditions. 

Recommended Safety Boots For Snow or Cold Weather

Heat Resistance

Some working environments like foundries are hot and hazardous and need specialist work boots. The best use pigskin leather, which has exceptional fire-retardant qualities compared with other leathers. It earns a nickname - "inferno leather" as it survives splashes with molten metal. Remember to look for specialist boots with heat-resistant laces with fast removal in molten metal spills if that is your working environment.

The Most Important Features in Safety Boots And Shoes

The essential part of selecting work boots or shoes to protect your feet is to be aware of the significant hazards that you may face. In a cold workplace, warmth is crucial; in a workshop with the possibility of dropped tools, impact resistance is your highest priority, and so on. The best safety boots or sneakers are the ones that remove or significantly mitigate the specific risks you face.