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November 13, 2006
Put Your Foot Down About Foot Protection

The "lowdown" on foot protection. Feet may be low down on the body, but they shouldn't be low down on your list of personal protective equipment (PPE) priorities. Healthy, injury-free feet are essential for daily comfort and a worker's ability to do the job--no matter what kind of work is involved. Damage to a bone, ligament, or muscle in the foot can be very painful and make it difficult or impossible for injured employees to stay on their feet and perform their jobs. Unfortunately, there are a lot of foot hazards in most workplaces.

DANGER! Foot protection required. OSHA says you have to provide proper foot protection when employees are exposed to foot hazards, such as falling or rolling objects, electrical shocks and burns, and splashes from chemicals or hot substances like molten metals. This means your employees might need:

  • Steel-toe work shoes to protect toes from falling objects and being crushed by heavy materials or rolling equipment
  • Work shoes with metatarsal guards to protect the foot from impact from ankle to toe
  • Butyl, vinyl, or nitrile footwear to protect against hazardous chemicals
  • Metal-reinforced soles to protect against punctures
  • Non conducting rubber footwear to protect against electrical shocks and burns
  • Latex or rubber sole shoes or boots to protect against slips and falls from wet or slippery surfaces

Note: OSHA's foot protection standard (29 CFR 1910.136) refers you to ANSI Z41-1991 for specific safety footwear requirements.

Footwear fashion alert: On-the-job comfort and safety are always in style. Even when special protective footwear isn't needed, work shoes should be

Why It Matters...
  • American workers suffer hundreds of foot and toe injuries on the job every day.
  • Some injuries are serious enough to keep an employee out of work for days or even weeks. Workers might even suffer permanent disability and be unable to continue in their regular jobs.
  • It's been estimated that, on average, each employee foot injury costs $6,000 in medical expenses and lost productivity--and some cost much more.

appropriate for the kind of job the worker is doing. For example, in most jobs, extremely high heels or open sandals are inappropriate and create safety hazards. What most workers need, if they don't have to wear specialized foot protection, is a sturdy shoe that fits comfortably, and can resist wear and tear. The ideal work shoe gives good foot support and has nonslip soles for good traction.

Shoe condition matters, too. Worn-out work shoes with holes and cracks can't provide adequate protection. So you also need to take one final step and make sure employees inspect work shoes regularly and maintain them carefully. Your workers should always:

  • Check footwear before use each day to make sure there are no rips or holes.
  • Check soles and heels from time to time to make sure they are not worn down.
  • Replace footwear that can't give good support and protection.
  • Decontaminate work shoes that come in contact with hazardous substances.
  • Keep all components of footwear clean (particularly treads on soles).
  • Store footwear properly, away from excessive heat.
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