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Safety footwear for wellbeing

28 November 2016

Steel toe cap boots have come a long way, in fact many safety boots and shoes now have 'plastic' or aluminium toe caps. Now the correct safety footwear does a lot more than just preventing the crushing of the wearers toes and, says Bruce Salisbury, UK national sales manager, Steitz Securaand, it should have a positive effect on overall wellbeing.

It is now possible to have different width fittings in a wide choice of styles – not just a few wide fit styles. Feet can be measured using moulds made from the lasts used in manufacture of the footwear, giving a choice of as many as four different widths.

Traditionally people with wide feet have had to buy safety footwear one, two or even three sizes too big to get enough width. This is neither truly comfortable or safe and in the short term can lead to slips and trips - and in the long term muscolo-skeletal problems. Similarly if the shoes or boots are too tight there is a risk of developing forefoot disorders.

The importance of this feature has been recognised by the AGR - a German back care organisation that tests and recommends products under its Healthy Back – Better Living campaign.

Heel cushioning and shock absorption

Another important feature which the AGR recognises as significant in reducing damage to the back is correct heel cushioning. Systems are now being developed to enable the correct amount of heel cushioning and shock absorption is achieved by using replaceable colour coded inserts in the heel of the boot. Research at The University Medical Centre in Jena (Germany) has also shown that such systems reduce fatigue in the leg and trunk muscles.

Extensive trials at a major car manufacturer have shown that the correct forefoot cushioning, in conjunction with the weight dependent heel cushioning, greatly relieve pressure and muscle fatigue in the ball of the foot, to the extent that in some instances anti-fatigue matting was no longer required.

Lever arm reduction

Safety footwear is now following the lead of some of the major sports footwear manufacturers in producing sole designs that reduce the stresses and strains produced in the foot, knee and the rest of the body by lever arms. The aim is to allow the feet to move as naturally as possible – this is sometimes known as barefoot technology. "Lever arms are the enemy of natural  foot movement," says Professor Markus Walther, an expert in sports medicine, podiatry and biomechanics.

Strain on muscles, tendons and joints is reduced by minimising lever arm effects due to the altered geometry at the edges of the outsole. Lever arm reduced footwear is characterised by lower heel heights, softer sole materials and low profile outsole with rounded peripheral areas.

Climate comfort

It’s important for comfort to have a controlled climate for the foot. This is best achieved by use of top quality materials allowing circulation of air through the footwear. A vegetable tanned natural leather insole with skin friendly pH value is believed to be a major contributing factor to this. (Also good for the environment as no toxic chromium salts or acetaldehyde are used in the tanning process).

Sometimes cheaper materials are compensated for by the overuse of bonding agents which reduce the ‘breathability’ of the footwear. In more extreme conditions of wet, cold or even heat a vapour permeable membrane such as Gore-Tex enhances the foot climate by allowing ‘breathing’ but keeping out the cold and wet.

Natural foot movement - Biomechanics

Another result of using the correct materials and sole design and construction is that the feet should move in a biomechanically correct way rather than being forced into an unnatural movement by, for example, soles that don’t flex at the right point. Soles with a flexion zone underneath the toe joints help to create this natural movement.

The end result of all this technology is that modern safety footwear should be comfortable and a contribution to health and wellbeing (both short and long term) rather than a detriment.

If your feet are comfortable you can concentrate on doing a good safe job without the distraction of ill fitting footwear and cold and wet or sweaty feet.