Put a safe foot forward
Smelly painful feet, skin rashes, ingrown toe nails, hammer toes and postural deformities are just a few of the many problems experienced by tradesmen wearing uncomfortable or ill-fitting boots on the job site. What most tradesmen don’t realise is that by not wearing safe and supportive work boots, they are not only jeopardising their safety when at work but also the longevity of their careers.
It is important that tradesmen not only understand the importance of wearing safety boots but also know how to identify which boots suit their line of work and whether they comply with Australian and global safety standards.
Any footwear with an in-built toe cap complying with the latest Australian safety standard - AS/NZS 2210.3:2009 - is considered as ‘safety footwear’ by workwear manufacturer KingGee. To meet this standard, the footwear needs to pass a range of tests with features such as the toe cap, thread, leather, laces, hooks, eyelets and lining all being tested. Any safety boot that has been checked and approved by AS/NZS 2210.3:2009 standards will have a benchmark or SAI Global logo on or inside the boots. This, however, is only one of many things tradesmen need to consider when purchasing a pair of boots.
Another aspect that tradesmen need to consider when purchasing safety boots is whether the safety boot suits the work they perform. For instance, the footwear required by an electrician will be different to the one required by a builder, welder or miner. An electrician would need to look for features such as an antistatic sole whereas a welder would need a rubber outsole that has heat resistance up to 300°, oil resistance and even chemical resistance.
Most importantly, when purchasing a pair of safety boots it is essential that several pairs of boots are tried on with socks to ensure a correct fit.
Podiatrist and foot surgeon Dr Haydar Ozcan emphasises the significance of the process: “Choosing the wrong footwear and wearing it daily causes strain on the foot, leading to arch and heel pain. As this progresses, so too does the problem with rolling of the ankles, pain in the knee joints and lower back strain becoming inevitable. It’s crucial that tradesmen try on a variety of boots so they can find a boot that supports firmly around the foot or ankle, but that also doesn’t pinch the foot.”
Another important safety footwear purchase tip is to bear in mind what types of jobs you do on a daily basis. For example, if you don’t do a lot of walking but more standing, a pull-on boot will be adequate. Alternatively, if you do a lot of physical work and walking you will need a lace-up boot to prevent an ankle injury. Also, it’s important to be aware that different types of safety footwear provide different types of grip. If you work on a roof, in a garden, in a warehouse or underground in a mine - you’ll need different levels of grip. For example, if you work on a flat humid surface such as in a kitchen you will need special ‘grip footwear’ with very small cleats and a flat sole. If you work on a mine site, look for a sole with larger cleats, similar to that of a hiking boot.
It is also useful to look out for a thermo polyurethane (TPU) outsole. TPU gives the boot excellent abrasion and oil resistance as well as heat resistance of up to 180 degrees. Rubber outsoles also provide great abrasion and oil resistance, heat resistance of up to 300° and can even provide chemical resistance.
KingGee also proposes that tradesmen should choose a boot with laces instead of a pull-on boot. This allows the wearer to adjust the tightness of the boot depending on changes in their feet, such as swelling.
As past trends suggest, pull-on work boots have generally been the boot of choice. However, with the implementation of new technology and design in the safety footwear sector, lace-up boots are making a comeback. With this in mind, KingGee decided to evaluate their own range and develop safety boots that are as comfortable as possible without compromising safety needs. KingGee decided to design a new range of safety boots to provide stability and support, without compromising comfort. The boots have full polyurethane cushioning in the sole and extra padding on the heel strike for superior shock absorption. All boots are lined with Dri-Lex and treated with Aegis to keep feet cool, dry and odour free, helping tradesmen reduce the build-up of bacteria that lead to skin rashes or fungus between the toes. The new range of safety boots also feature a wider fit for tradesmen who commonly complain about the pain in their heels and toes due to boots that are too narrow or small. A tradie’s job isn’t easy. The right footwear is vital for them being able to get the job done, without damaging the body.
Below are a few tips from the Australasian Podiatry Council for foot care in the workplace.
As an employer you can prevent foot problems at work by:
- Promoting foot health in your workplace;
- Contracting a podiatrist to give a talk on foot care to employees;
- Encouraging your staff members to report foot problems, however minor (eg, safety shoes that rub;
- Looking at the foot health record of your company - multiple foot complaints may suggest the workplace itself is creating foot problems;
- Doing a ‘foot risk assessment’ in the workplace - look for ways to minimise the burden on your employees’ feet. (A podiatrist will able to assist you with assessing workplace foot risks;
- Emphasising to the safety officer or occupational physician that foot complaints should be taken seriously;
- If your employees wear safety shoes, ask yourself: do we stock an adequate range of safety shoes to suit every staff member? If not, outsourcing the supply and fit of safety shoes may be more cost-effective;
- Allowing employees a crossover period when they exchange their old safety shoes for a new pair.
As an employee, you can maintain your foot health by:
- Being aware of the hazards in your workplace. If you have concerns about foot safety, alert your workplace representative or your employer;
- Reporting any foot pain or discomfort to your employer or safety officer;
- Making sure your shoes are fit for your workplace (eg, safety shoes if applicable);
- Remembering - feet shouldn’t hurt. Sore feet are a sign of problems;
- Visiting a podiatrist if you have foot problems.
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