For every sport there exists a shoe to prevent the musculoskeletal system of the foot from suffering injuries, wearing out or exhaustion. It is natural to wear a safe and proper sports shoe.
The risks of injuries at work can be similar to those in sport. When it comes to parts of the body, the feet are one of the highest at risk to get injured in professional life, beaten into second place only by our hands.
Feet are affected in about 20% of all accidents at work. Typical injuries are sprains, dislocations, fractures, stab wounds from stepping onto pointed objects and local skin damage (corrosion, dermatitis, allergy) from contact with chemicals. Unfortunately too little emphasis is placed on wearing the right footwear that could prevent these injuries.
Design versions of footwear
Shoes for safety, protection and work are called protective footwear. Because of their special design the shoes are able to protect workers against injuries and hazards. Shoes for safety, protection and work require an EC-type testing according to the EC-Directive 89/686/EEC (council directive for personal protective equipment). Some kinds of protective footwear, e.g. shoes used for isolation against high voltage, require additional production control by a notified body. These products are category III-protective equipment.
EN 344, which will be replaced by EN ISO 20344, determines the basic requirements for protective footwear. The basic requirements are the stability and impermeability of the shoe as well as the abrasion resistance and the fuel resistance of the sole. EN 345, EN 346 and EN 347 are constitutive standards to EN 344. These separate the protective footwear into three different types. The determining factor for the subdivision depends on the different requirements for the toe protection. Safety footwear (code designation S) according to EN 345 has protective toe caps against extraordinary burdens. The protective toe caps have to abide 200 J of test energy. Protective footwear (code designation P) according to EN 346 has protective toe caps against medium burdens.
The test energy is 100 J. Working shoes (code designation O) according to EN 347 do not normally have protective toe caps.
The different design versions of protective footwear are divided into classes depending on their manufacture. Class I includes shoes made of leather or other materials which are joined by common methods. Class II includes shoes which are vulcanised or formed on the whole (e.g. rubber boots or synthetic material boots).
Beyond this classification, safety shoes (S) are divided into several categories. The higher the number following the S, the higher the safety and the requirements:
SB: SB is the code designation for shoes meeting the basic requirements, type of manufacture: class I or II
S1: as SB, plus closed heel area, antistatic, energy consumption in the heel area, type of manufacture: class I
S2: as S1, plus suitable for moist areas, class I
S3: as S2, plus penetration resistance, corrugated sole, class I
S4: as S1, class II (e.g. rubber boots)
S5: as S4, plus penetration resistance, corrugated sole, class II
The manufacturer will be asked for further requirements of the different shoe types. The conditions for safety shoes are also valid for protective shoes (P1 to P5) and working shoes (O1 to O5). Safety, protective and working shoes are offered in different types (A to E) as follows:
Type A: low shoe
Type B: ankle boot
Type C: mid-height boot
Type D: high boot
Type E: femoral-height boot
To inform the user, the shoes require a marking with its protective functions, e.g. S2, Type B. Additionally the marking has to have the name or the logo/trademark of the manufacturer, the date of manufacture, the size of the shoe and the number of the standard according to which the shoe was tested, as well as the CE-mark. The manufacturer confirms with the CE-mark that his shoes are tested by an accredited laboratory and that they meet the directive. Safety, protective and working shoes from category III have to be additionally marked with the number of the notified body that carries out the product monitoring.
Selection of footwear - who is responsible?
According to the EC-Directive 89/656/EEC the employer is responsible for handing out personal protective equipment in a proper form to the employee. This also includes protective footwear. The employer is beholden to ascertain and judge the hazards in working areas before selection and the use of suitable protective footwear. Checklists as shown in Table 1 may help. The hazard judgement determines what kind of shoe is needed. A list with positive tested shoes is published by the BG-Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. If the employer has made a decision on the protective footwear, then it is necessary that the employees try on these shoes. The willingness to wear protective footwear depends, not only on matters of safety, but on comfort and the individual fit of the shoe. The checklist provides important items to support the right choice. It is the employee’s duty to wear the protective footwear and to take care of it. The employees are not allowed to wear worn or damaged footwear. The employer should be informed about possible defects.
Trends of development
Manufacturers of protective footwear are trying constantly to improve their products. This means not just design improvements that motivate the workers to wear protective footwear but also that capacity and safety are permanently being developed.
Chemical safe footwear - a new approach
No agreed European procedure currently exists for the evaluation of footwear products for personal protection against chemicals and micro-organisms with respect to their conformity to the PPE Directive 89/686/EC. The absence of such a standard represents a problem for notified bodies, as they are not able to access tests based on generally recognised principles for the certification of such products. At the same time, the manufacturers of chemical-resistant footwear are confronted with a distortion of the market conditions. In order to rectify the essential requirements for chemical-resistant footwear and the corresponding test procedures were to be drawn up. A further step was to improve an existing draft standard, based upon these requirements and procedures, for the competent standardisation committees under CEN. The involved partners in the project were CTC (France, project leadership), BIA (Germany), CIMAC (Italy), CIOP (Poland), INESCOP (Spain) and SATRA (United Kingdom).
The project consisted of six tasks. Firstly, suitable chemicals and footwear materials had to be selected for testing of chemical resistance of materials (degradation) and chemical permeation resistance as shown in Tables 2 and 3. The second task entailed development of a test method for determining the degradation of materials used in industrial footwear, in terms of effects on their key physical properties. The third task consisted of the development of a test method for assessment of the shoe materials’ resistance to chemical permeation, and the formulation of the test requirements into a standard. The requirements for footwear providing protection against micro-organisms were then assessed in the forth task. Standardised information for the use of this PPE was drawn up in the fifth task. The final part of the project involved preparation of a draft presented in CEN/TC 161 “Foot and leg protectors”, considering the modifications made to the document currently in progress.
Table 2. Tested chemicals and corresponding categories
Category  Chemicals
Acid  Sulphuric Acid (96 ± 2) %
Nitric Acid (6 ± 3)%
Acetic Acid (99 ± 1) %
Basis  Diethylamine
Sodium Hydroxide (40 ± 1) %
Ammonia Solution (25 ± 1) %
Organic Solvents  Dichloromethane
Ethyl Acetate
Hydrocarbons  Acetone
Other  Oleic Acid
Hydrogen Peroxide (30 ± 1) % V/V
Sodium Hypochlorine (20 ± 1) %
Table 3
Tested materials
Hypalon (Viton)  Neoprene  Split coated leather (natural leather)  Polyurethane  Nitrile rubber  PVC
In the course of the project, a procedure was developed for the degradation of shoe materials by chemicals. This encompassed criteria based upon mechanical tests for assessment of degradation. A cell specially developed and optimised for the purpose was employed. A permeation method was successfully adapted from a glove test. All necessary roundrobin tests were performed with selected combinations of materials and chemicals, and enabled the materials to be classified according to their performance. General test conditions for the resistance to sterilisation were laid down, in order to provide an indication of the suitability of protective footwear for protection against micro-organisms.
Following the conclusion of the project, a revised draft standard for “Footwear protecting against chemicals and microorganisms” was presented to the relevant CEN standards committee (CEN/TC 161) with the aid of the results gained.
The standard will consist of a set of four different parts:
Part 1: Terminology and test methods
Part 2: Footwear protecting against chemical spraying - requirements
Part 3: Footwear highly protective against chemicals - requirements
Part 4: Footwear protecting against micro-organisms - requirements
Safety footwear risk assessment
The use of safety footwear in the workpace can often be seen as a tricky issue for employers, but it really doesn't need to be if risk assessments are carried out and applied.
Assessing risk
It’s common in the workplace to hear employees saying that their safety footwear is “uncomfortable”, and a good employer will take this seriously and see what they can do to help ease the discomfort.
As an employer, or a safety and health professional, you should be asking the employee why the footwear is uncomfortable. It could be that you’ve provided the wrong type of footwear for the job which is why it is important to carry out a risk assessment before deciding which type of footwear is appropriate for the task.
The footwear needs to protect against a variety of hazards, including chemicals, oils and acids, sharp objects and water. You also need to consider whether the footwear needs to be non-slip, or anti-static, or whether it needs to guard against extremes of temperature. Finally, you should always look again and ask whether safety footwear is actually required?
For instance, in a factory office there is still a risk of something dropping onto an employee’s foot, but safety footwear may not be necessary. However, for a task on the shop floor where objects of some weight could be dropped and potentially cause significant injury, safety footwear is not just a good idea, it is a requirement.
There should be no excuse for failing to wear safety footwear when it is required. Manufacturers have a full range of shoes, trainers and boots in a range of fashions which should suit most workers. It makes sense for employers to have an ‘approved range’, which allows individuals to choose a style of footwear that they prefer and are happy to wear.
Other issues
It’s also worth bearing in mind that safety footwear may not actually be the cause of discomfort.
Some people could have a medical issue which makes wearing certain types of footwear uncomfortable. In these instances, you should be referring the individual to an occupational health practitioner for advice.
The type of sock worn can also be an issue and create discomfort. Socks can sometimes be too thick, but stockings or tights can be too thin. To solve this, provide instruction on the type of socks to be worn for maximum comfort when the footwear is issued.
If the footwear is laced too tightly, or not tightly enough, that can also cause discomfort. The provision of an innersole might rectify the problems.
What if the employee refuses to wear the footwear?
If the employer has identified safety footwear as necessary, via a risk assessment process, then it is a safety precaution and as such, the employee cannot refuse to wear it.
Employers should consult with their staff during risk assessment and provide an approved range of footwear. Then, if an employee fails to wear their safety footwear, they are failing to comply with the safety policy of the organisation and are therefore liable to disciplinary procedures. An employer could also be open to claims of failing to adhere to its own risk assessment and safety policy if they allow the individual to work without the safety footwear.
If safety footwear is mandatory and identified as a risk control measure, the employer must supply it free of charge to the employee, and this includes free maintenance, even including laces.
Claims and disclaimers
When an employee complains about the safety footwear provided, it is prudent for the employer or safety and health practitioner to do everything possible to rectify the problem - otherwise the employee could have grounds to claim for injury.
However, if the employee doesn’t tell their employer, then how does the employer know there is a problem? It is important, therefore, that a known procedure is put in place by the employer for staff members to follow if they have difficulties with any safety equipment.
Even with normal footwear, it needs to be remembered, there is a possibility of rubbing until the footwear has been “broken in”. Explain this to employees - if the footwear is unsuitable it will become apparent very quickly.
Some employers have tried to implement “disclaimers” into their workplace, but these aren’t worth the paper they are written on. It is like saying: “I know there is a significant risk of injury, I’ve made suitable arrangements to reduce this risk, and the wearing of safety footwear is necessary to further lower this risk. However, in your case, I’ll make an exception so long as you promise not to sue me if I cut your toes off.”
Safety footwear is like any other form of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) - it is either needed or it is not, no exceptions.
If an employer identifies a specific requirement to wear personal protective footwear, then it is up to the employer to enforce this decision.
It is difficult to get safety footwear right every time, but if you identify the need, consult your employees and provide advice to them, and enforce the wearing of the footwear properly, most of the problems you will come across should be resolved.
Key aspects of safety critical testing
Defective footwear products can lead to an increased potential for accidents due to slips, trips and falls. It is therefore essential for footwear manufacturers to assess their designs and ensure they are fit for purpose LYNNE BRENT reports on the key aspects of safety critical testing in footwear.
Various areas of the world have different methods of protecting the consumer. In Europe, for instance, footwear is covered by the European General Product Safety Directive, which is designed to ensure that all consumer products placed on the market in the European Union are safe. In the USA, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission is charged with protecting the public from unreasonable risks of serious injury or death from more than 15,000 types of consumer products including footwear.
The public are increasingly aware of their rights through articles in newspapers, consumer programmes on TV and information on the Internet. Changes in law and reported cases bring with them media publicity and draw the consumer’s attention to their right to complain.
In addition, the public are more familiar with product recalls and solicitors advertising “no win no fee” services. This has resulted in a compensation culture and encouraged more people to complain.
Obviously returns and complaints increase costs to the retailer and manufacturer. There is not only the cost of the footwear to consider but also the high risk of expensive court cases and compensation in the event of the footwear causing a personal injury.
As a world leading research and technology organisation for the footwear and leather goods industry, SATRA has developed many tests and performance guideline criteria suitable for evaluating footwear for ‘fitness for purpose’. There are basically six main safety critical areas which need to be considered.
Slip resistance
Slipping, tripping and falling remain potentially the most likely cause of accidents. Although these accidents will never be totally eliminated, they can be significantly reduced by using soles which have been fully evaluated for their slip resistance properties. SATRA is a world leader in slip technology and has developed a performance standard and test equipment that is the accepted industry standard. Most of the testing is carried out on our standard clay tiles wet and dry although this is often supplemented with other floorings such as carpet, polished wood and vinyl tiles. Interestingly of the number of samples we test each year, roughly 25% are considered unsatisfactory in this respect.
Sole bonds
Sole bond failures are still a major reason for customer complaints. When a sole bond starts to separate, tripping stumbling and falling can occur. Successful sole bonding depends on adequate upper and sole preparation, together with the correct choice and use of a suitable adhesive system. SATRA toe load and peel strength, together with ageing tests, will fully evaluate the bonds and show any weaknesses.
Heel attachment is the second most common safety related complaint we see at SATRA and the potential injuries are serious. The failures are a result of either one impact or gradual fatigue. The attachment of a heel is a major feat of engineering and relies on the various component qualities as well as production techniques.
Top piece detachment and heels breaking are also serious problems. SATRA has a suite of tests to fully evaluate all the components in the shoe back part as well as the attachment strength of the heel in the finished shoes.
Straps and fastenings
Strappy sandals and shoes remain popular for all seasons. Some straps are purely decorative, most are functional – in either case, a broken or detached strap will ruin the footwear, could cause injury to the wearer and have the potential for a personal injury claim against the retailer.
The number of straps, their width and position will vary with each design but the strength of the strap and its attachment are always the most important aspects to consider.
Strap to sole attachment (cemented constructions)
The attachment of wider straps can be reinforced with staples or tacks but narrow straps normally rely on adhesion strength alone to prevent them pulling out in wear. It is therefore important to ensure that these straps are prepared correctly prior to the adhesive being applied.
SATRA normally uses a peel test, to assess the attachment strength of straps. However this method is not suitable for narrow straps. The preferred test here is to apply an increasing force to the strap until failure occurs.
Testing the attachment strength of individual straps to the sole/insole is vital since the strength can vary significantly. Ideally, alternate straps are tested on a pair of shoes.
Children’s footwear
Safety critical testing of children’s footwear also needs to cover any foreseeable abuse and specific hazards relating to children. The most appropriate standard for assessing the hazards associated with children’s wear is the Toy Safety Standard EN71. Although there are eight parts to this standard, generally the first three cover the necessary areas. These are mechanical and physical properties, flammability and toxicity.
Be safe
The list of subjects covered in this article is not exhaustive and a full risk assessment is advisable on any new style or construction.
SATRA would strongly recommend that all safety critical properties, are fully evaluated to demonstrate due diligence on behalf of the manufacturer and retailer. As well as testing at sample stage, it is advisable that safety critical properties are subject to on-going testing to ensure standards are maintained.
As well as offering routine testing of safety critical properties, our team of experts can offer constructive interpretation of results and advice on any remedial manufacturing/production action necessary.
PPE Directive
Back in 1989, the European Union issued its Directive covering most types of PPE. The objectives were to facilitate the free and fair trade of goods throughout the (now) twenty seven countries in the EU as well as ensuring that any equipment which claimed to offer the wearer or user protection conformed to the Directive and thus they would receive the protection relevant to the proposed use. In order to achieve this, a number of notified bodies were recognised throughout the EU and these became the ONLY organisations empowered to assess the product and confirm its acceptability. Products which achieved this standard must then display the CE mark. SATRA Technology Centre, based in the UK, is one of the leading test and certification organisations within the EU, and is a Notified body for virtually all types of PPE, including safety, protective and occupational footwear.
The PPE Directive refers to specific health and safety requirements and has a number of supporting standards which define exactly how each type of product must be tested, what standard the test result needs to achieve and what information is necessary to be provided to the customer to explain the performance and care of the product. These standards are generally revised every five years to reflect changing market conditions, new materials and technology, and to include new products.
Safety footwear European standard
In the case of safety footwear, the current European standards are:
• EN ISO 20344 test methods.
• EN ISO 20345 safety footwear (200J toe cap)
• EN ISO 20346 protective footwear (100J toe cap).
• EN ISO 20347 occupational footwear (no toe cap). These standards replaced the EN 344 series of standards in 2004