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A step ahead

07 March 2019

The evolution of safety footwear has come on leaps and bounds, and according to Peter Dumigan, behavioural safety and material technology is having a real influence on design.

SAFETY FOOTWEAR has evolved enormously over the last two hundred years. While clogs and heavy leather boots were used by factory workers and miners in the 19th century, steel toe-cap and hob nail boots came to the fore in the first half of the 20th century, while army surplus footwear and rigger boots were some of the products used in the years that followed.

Protective footwear has obviously moved on in light years since those times, but some of today’s poorly designed and non-compliant safety footwear is as uncomfortable and damaging as stiff leather hob-nail boots. 

The design, development and manufacture of safety footwear in the 21st century is controlled by the regulatory framework provided by the European Directives for Personal ProtectiveEquipment (CE EN 20345:2011), which ensures that every safety footwear product is designed to offer the right protection in compliance with these standards.

While governmental regulations control safety footwear design and development, product innovation is being influenced by advances in materials technology, the uses and applications of which, are being driven by behavioural safety and user attitudes to style, design and comfort. 

For the leading safety footwear brands, these are the key drivers in product design and development – as well as the fact that men and women have different on-site requirements.

In recent years there has been an increase in the use of ‘behavioural safety’or ‘behaviour modification’approaches to safety product development, which involve the clear understanding of, and defining individual attitudes to safe or unsafe behavior at work.

For many employers, it’s a key issue given that so many accidents and injuries are reported to be attributable to inappropriate or sloppy attitudes at work. In terms of the overall management of health and safety practices at work, effective behavioural awareness among the workforce - which comes from an effective understanding of health and safety issues - does reduce risk and injury.

For safety footwear manufacturers this issue is compounded by design and fashion influences. Comfort, aesthetics and style of products are key factors in encouraging workers to wear safety footwear – and, by association ensuring they understand the benefits of keeping their feet comfortable and protected. 

It’s a highly efficient vehicle for increasing workforce participation in health and safety programmes. Thus the resulting behaviour and individual actions can positively influence the overall health and safety culture in an organisation.

For brand leaders, ‘Performance Through Innovation’, is a key philosophy in continually modernising safety footwear and satisfying, not only regulatory requirements, but both end user and corporate health and safety needs.

Sporty designs

By using modern high-tech materials in product design, 21stCentury health and safety is moving away from the old adage that high-protection safety footwear can come from simply having a ‘heavy boot’. Whilst there will always be ‘traditional’ work boots in any safety footwear range, the most modern safety footwear can be lightweight with sporty-looking designs if they’re made from state-of-the-art footbed materials complimented by the most modern technical fibres and quality materials in the uppers.

“In terms of what inspires our product development, it’s ultimately the specific needs of professional craftsmen and women on site which have been thoroughly researched and tested”, says Nick Thorpe, category manager for safety footwear at Hultafors Group UK. “Our objective is simply todeliver the best quality safety footwear on the market”.

“That is whywe work with suppliers known for their state-of-the-artMaterial, such as Gore-Tex for water protectionand its ability to breathe, Vibram soles for grip anddurability, the BOA Closure System for easy adjustmentsand rip-stop Cordura fabric for hardwearing durability”. 

“While quality materials and technologies are at the heart of our product range, product design and choice has to reflect the environments in which products are worn – whatever the working environment or weather condition – to deliver safety and protection wherever our customers are”.

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Different options

Looking at three different types of safety footwear – the Trainer, Shoe and Boot – these are the key components and design features to look for.

The Safety Shoe

Far from being conventional in its looks and just the kind of design wearers will aspire to, the newest products really are revolutionary for safety shoes. Something which until now has been impossible to get in a safety shoe is the E-TPU sole which will deliver superb cushioning and comfort all day, 

In effect it delivers a ‘bounce back’ which gives a 55% ‘energy return’ that will put a real spring in your step to reduce fatigue and stress on yourback, legs and feet.

This kind of shoe should have a stretchable upper with Cordura for water-resistance. This will also give amazing performance when it comes to breathability, fit and flexibility. Importantly, this kind of shoe should have a non-slip sole plus a composite midsole and ideally a heel counter for foot stability.

Naturally the shoe has to have a toe-cap, but look for the new NANO toe-cap. It’s 40% stronger than fiberglass, lighter than other materials and thinner thanother non-metallic toe-caps. 

The athletic safety trainer

Ideal for workers who are looking for something stylish and who are constantly on the move, this kind of safety shoe should have a lightweight athletic look and fully compliant safety features. 

The shoe’s midsole should be made of a poured PU rather than a traditional injected PU to give a more cushioned feel underfoot, added to which a thick rubber outsole will provide a high level of anti-slip protection and durability. 

Furthermore, a BOAcomfort fastening and lightweight, but durable uppers will deliver a better overall fit making it easy to take the shoe on and off, especially when going in and out of people’s homes.

The shoe should also have a fibreglass toecap which, with the ballistic midsole will combine with the other protection features and anti-static properties to deliver S3 protection.

The safety boot

Given the wear and tear they have to put up with, feet deserve better than a cheap boot. 

Rigger Boots might be easy to get on or off, but for maximum comfort, protection and durability, look for a best-in-class, technical safety boot that integrates modern design with best-in-class materials for water protection, comfort, durability and a sporty look. 

A waterproof and breathable GORE-TEX lining will keep your feet dry and comfortable, while a Vibram outsole and Cordura Ripstop fabric in the uppers offer great protection and ruggedness. A fibreglass toe-cap will also ensure fully compliant protection.

Added to which, with the unique BOA Closure System, pressure will be distributed evenly across your feet for maximum comfort and ensure a glove-like fitand keep them dry, warm and comfortable.

Ultimately though, ensure you choose a boot that provides the wearer with the ultimate foot and ankle protection and support to reduce the risk of injury.

Peter Dumigan is managing director of the Hultafors Group UK, which owns Snickers Workwear and Solid Gear Safety Footwear. For more information, visit www.solidgearfootwear.com