Meeting the conditions: features that make mining boots fit for purpose
By Adrian Blandford, Global Work & Safety Range Manager, Blundstone
Monday, 10 May, 2021
Mining is a significant primary industry and contributor to the Australian economy, and there is no doubt that the safety of its workers is the number one priority. With this strong focus, the industry is constantly evolving to adapt to the modern workforce. The same is true in the case of industrial footwear, where innovation and technological advancements have enabled manufacturers to stay abreast of the strict safety regulations, delivering enhanced performance while always offering the highest level of protection.
A pair of work boots is simply not fit for purpose unless safe and comfortable. Often designed for specific conditions, safety boots are built around features that keep feet secure — in all kinds of environments, while still being comfortable and supportive. The challenge for safety footwear is to fulfil a range of roles and functions simultaneously while ensuring it is fit for purpose. Accident prevention is fundamentally important, but it is supplemented by increased awareness of long-term occupational health issues. The advent of longer shifts, changing work practices, varied environments, and the implications of an ageing and gender-diverse workforce are all factors that need to be considered when designing safety footwear for the mining industry.
The choice of safety footwear is a subjective one, involving a range of practical and emotional considerations. Perhaps more than any other item of apparel, footwear has a strong bearing on the comfort and wellbeing of the wearer. Deficiencies in this area can be detrimental to the wearer’s physical and mental health, and their performance in their work. To ensure adequate protection for miners, it is the responsibility of both the employer and employee to ensure that the correct personal protective equipment is worn. The suitability of safety footwear to provide adequate protection is accepted by occupational health and safety professionals and consumers alike, as being defined by written standards, with the Australian Standard being AS 2210.3:2019.
National and international standards address specific aspects of the use of safety footwear and encompass a range of specialised fit-for-purpose applications. The testing for standard AS 2210.3:2019 compliance covers many facets of the footwear construction, including design, upper construction (including leather properties), linings, durability and slip resistance of outsole materials, insoles, toe protection and specific ergonomic features. Certain workplace environments require additional protective features in footwear, including penetration resistance, electrical properties, water resistance and metatarsal protection — requirements that are also addressed in additional clauses in the above standard.
Mining boots require a number of features to provide adequate protection and need to be able to withstand the harsh conditions of mine sites. These features include slip resistance, tread pattern, shanks and steel top caps. Rubber outsoles should offer heat resistance and provide slip resistance in varied environments, including resistance to cuts, abrasion and microbial attack, and be oil, acid and organic fat resistant. To enhance underfoot stability in muddy, rugged and outdoor conditions, boots should have a heavy-duty tread pattern. The tread pattern should be designed to promote natural dislodgement of small rocks and dirt. Another key feature of a mining boot is the shank, which ensures correct flex point and torsional stability. Steel toe caps for boots are essential for the mining industry as they provide maximum protection against impact, cuts, penetration and rolling forces, such as heavy moving machinery. Most importantly, boots must be breathable and comfortable, as miners spend extended hours on their feet, often on uneven and unstable surfaces.
Some other boot components that provide extra protection for miners include penetration-resistant insoles, metatarsal protection and Kevlar stitching. Penetration-resistant insoles provide maximum resistance against penetration of objects through the soles of the footwear. Fractures of the metatarsal bones are one of the most common traumatic foot injuries, so it is important to have a metatarsal guard for boots to reduce the risk of injury. Additionally, Kevlar stitching reduces the risk of abrasion along seams in such harsh environments. The best way to satisfy workers who have to wear protective footwear every day is to create truly fit-for-purpose products that are comfortable, tailored to performance and easy to wear; provide the protection they need; and are as unobtrusive as possible.
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