Employees who face possible foot or leg injuries from falling or rolling objects or from crushing or penetrating materials should wear protective footwear. Also, employees whose work involves exposure to hot substances or corrosive or poisonous materials must have protective gear to cover exposed body parts, including legs and feet. If an employee’s feet may be exposed to electrical hazards, non-conductive footwear should be worn. On the other hand, workplace exposure to static electricity may necessitate the use of conductive footwear.
Examples of situations in which an employee should wear foot and/or leg protection include:
- When heavy objects such as barrels or tools might roll onto or fall on the employee’s feet;
- Working with sharp objects such as nails or spikes that could pierce the soles or uppers of ordinary shoes;
- Exposure to molten metal that might splash on feet or legs;
- Working on or around hot, wet or slippery surfaces; and
- Working when electrical hazards are present.
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 labeling 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.
- Combination foot and 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 that protect the feet against hot work surfaces common in 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 employees 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 grain elevators 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.
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 an employee 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 employees touch conductive, grounded items.
Nonconductive footwear must not be used in explosive or hazardous locations.
Care of Protective Footwear
As with all protective equipment, safety footwear should be inspected prior to each use. Shoes and leggings should be checked for wear and tear at reasonable intervals. This includes looking for cracks or holes, separation of materials, broken buckles or laces. The soles of shoes should be checked for pieces of metal or other embedded items that could present electrical or tripping hazards. Employees should follow the manufacturers’ recommendations for cleaning and maintenance of protective footwear.