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As the saying goes, better safe than sorry – and as with all protective gear, this applies to safety boots as well. Having the right pair can make all the difference at your worksite, potentially saving you from burns, fractures, metatarsal injuries, puncture wounds, lethal slippage and more – with emphasis on the word ‘right’. As with your average pairs of shoes, you might be surprised by the variety of safety boots you’ll find at your disposal, making the decision of picking the right option that much more complicated. From the types of materials to the combination of features making up a particular pair, there’s plenty to consider before narrowing down the boots most appropriate not only for the demands of specific workplaces and worksites, but also for optimum comfort.
Comfort in safety boots
The central concept of rugged protective work boots is safety, and this encompasses comfort as well. The right fit and support is integral to making sure you don’t end up inflicting entirely avoidable strains and pains upon your person, from general discomfort to the emerging and exacerbating of conditions like plantar fasciitis. The right pair for you will ideally feature a snug instep, neither too tight nor too loose, to ensure that prolonged wear doesn’t end up constricting your blood circulation or having your feet slipping around in your boots and crushing your toes. Cushioned insoles, nowadays often padded with memory foam or other durable materials which mold to the natural curvature of your feet and support the arch so you don’t end up spraining any muscles and tissue, also help prevent slippage, and make your boots comfier to keep on and move about in without feeling aggravating. While you might reason that purchasing an oversized pair of boots might be a good decision, especially since they’re typically more rigid and less breathable than regular boots, this is happens to be riskier, since the ball of your foot needs to sit on the ball of the boot, the fit snug enough to prevent your feet slipping around and causing you discomfort and paving the way for long-term health concerns. Try out different sizes, and pick the pair with the most comfortable fit for you.
For welding and metalwork
Getting into the particulars of the actual anatomy of a good pair of safety boots, it’s important first to narrow down the features necessary for them to fulfil their function. For instance, boots with fabric elements like exposed shoelaces are a fire hazard in any worksite where welding and metalwork is taking place, since the sparks and slags can ignite fabric and burn through your boots, risking severe injury. Pull-on boots which don’t need to be laced up are better options, as are shoes with a met-guard covering any fabric elements and shielding them against sparks.
In high temperature worksites, it’s also important to make sure your boots are appropriately heat rated to withstand these greater temperatures without melting or deforming. Boots constructed out of Kevlar, rubber and nitrile have higher temperature resistance compared to Ethylene Vinyl Acetate (EVA) and Polyurethane (PU) boots.
For electrical repairs and non-metal worksites
Toe-caps are a standard feature of safety boots, but they’re often made of metal. The shank of the shoe, a supportive frame found between the midsole and insole, is also typically metallic. This can be a problem in worksites where you’ll have to pass through a metal detector frequently, for instance at airports, cargo loading bays, and generally other metal-free worksites. Look out for boots made of other materials, like Kevlar, plastic and fiberglass – these are typically much lighter to wear, and Kevlar does a better job providing more complete midsole protection than a steel shank might, since the latter may leave about 20% of the midsole exposed.
Metal-free shoes are also the right pick if you are working with or around electricity. Boots with electricity-conducting components pose serious electrocution risks and are absolutely unsafe for use in such environments.
For worksites involving heavy lifting and puncture hazards
Metatarsal bones refer to the long bones connecting the ankle to the toes – and with the open surface of the tops of our feet exposed in any worksite involving heavy lifting or even the remotest likelihood of falling object hazards, severe metatarsal injuries need to be considered as a valid and compelling risk. Pick boots with protective toe caps – available in steel, aluminum and composite materials – and metatarsal protection over the bridge of the shoe, to minimize the risk of injury as much as possible. This applies not just to heavy-duty lifting, but also for professionals like delivery personnel who may find themselves handling heavy objects which may accidentally fall and injure them.
In worksites requiring all-around protection, for instance where there is the risk of sharp or protruding objects on the ground piercing through the soles of your boots and causing puncture wounds, also make sure to pick boots with rugged steel or composite midsoles and puncture-resistant outsoles to prevent injury.
For wet conditions and worksites with spillage risks
Any worksite where the risk of slippage is moderate to high requires safety boots that will give you the necessary traction so you don’t lose your footing and risk dangerous falls. Many boots feature non-slip outsoles to let you move about safely, with ridges and channels to increase surface area and friction. For wet conditions, waterproof boots are also a must to resist damage and keep moisture from seeping into your boots. Many waterproof boots are also designed to be chemically resistant, to void the hazards of chemical spillages, but make sure your boots meet the specs of the specific types of chemicals you may be working with to ensure full coverage and protection.
Different industries and workplaces where protective gear is imperative are likely to have their own criteria for safety footwear, meeting certain specifications. Before going on the hunt for the right pair for you, with all these variables in mind, familiarize yourself with the workplace or industry requirements to narrow down your choices and have a better idea of what you’re looking for.