Employees in the manufacturing industry who face possible foot or leg injuries from falling or rolling objects or from crushing or penetrating materials should wear protective footwear. Employees whose work involves exposure to hot substances, or corrosive or poisonous materials, must have protective gear to cover exposed body parts, including legs and feet. Examples of situations in which an employee should wear foot and/or leg protection include:
- When heavy objects, such as barrels or tools might roll onto or fall on an employee’s feet.
- Working with sharp objects, such as nails or spikes, that could pierce the soles or uppers of ordinary shoes.
- Exposure to molten metal that might splash on feet or legs.
- Working on or around hot, wet, or slippery surfaces.
- Working where electrical hazards are present.
Types of Foot and Leg Protection
Safety footwear must meet the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) minimum compression and impact performance standards in ANSI Z41-1991 (American National Standard for Personal Protection-Protective Footwear) or provide equivalent protection. Check the product’s labeling or consult the manufacturer to make sure the footwear will protect the user from the hazards they face. Foot and leg protection choices include the following:
- Leggings protect the lower legs and feet from heat hazards such as molten metal or welding sparks. Safety snaps allow leggings to be removed quickly.
- Metatarsal guards protect the instep area from impact and compression. Made of aluminum, steel, fiber or plastic, these guards may be strapped to the outside of shoes.
- Toe guards fit over the toes of regular shoes to protect the toes from impact and compression hazards. They may be made of steel, aluminum, or plastic.
- Combination foot and shin guards protect the lower legs and feet and may be used in combination with toe guards when greater protection is needed.
- Safety shoes have impact-resistant toes and heat-resistant soles that protect the feet against hot work surfaces common in hot metal industries. The metal insoles of some safety shoes protect against puncture wounds. Safety shoes may also be designed to be electrically conductive to prevent the buildup of static electricity in areas with the potential for explosive atmospheres or nonconductive to protect employees from workplace electrical hazards.
- Foundry shoes insulate the feet from the extreme heat of molten metal and keep hot metal from lodging in shoe eyelets, tongues, or other shoe parts. These snug-fitting leather or leather-substitute shoes have leather or rubber soles and rubber heels. All foundry shoes should have built-in safety toes.
Key Factors to Consider
Below are some key factors to consider when choosing shoes:
- Good traction to protect against slips and falls – depending on the environment, consider cleats, or shoes with an abrasive, gritted, grooved, spiked, or studded sole.
- Proper chemical protection – boots and shoes made of rubber, PVC, or neoprene (depending on the chemical) are needed.
- Employee comfort – if a shoe is unwieldy or heavy, chances are it will not be worn, so give workers a choice of footwear colors and styles, if the choices provide adequate protection.
Can safety footwear amputate your toes?
Many employers and employees believe that steel toe boots can amputate your toes if a heavy object falls on them. This is a myth that has been debunked by professionals. Boots meeting ANSI standards are designed to safely protect against falling objects, which make up 60% of all foot injures.