How do you find the right safety footwear?

07 August 2013

Manufacturers exhibiting at At A+A 2013 m will be presenting the entire spectrum of safety and occupational footwear and will be well placed to answer this question.

Safety footwear suppliers will present their tailor-made solutions at the 2013 A+A in Düsseldorf, the international trade fair with a congress for personal safety, security and health at work which will accommodate around 1,600 exhibitors from almost 60 nations. (5 - 8 November).

After hand injuries, foot injuries are the second most common occurrence. They are rated as the second most common occurring work accident by the trade association for the construction industry. That means that foot protection in the construction industry is an important topic. But also in the field of industry, accidents happen frequently due to foot sprains, slipping or tripping. In addition to this, there are an increasing number of older employees whose feet may require special attention. It should be in the interest of every employer to provide employees with high-quality shoes. "Because a single day of illness clearly costs more than a complete set of personal protective equipment, but certainly more than a pair of good safety shoes,” said Dennis Quensel from the A+A exhibitor Otter. "Therefore, employers are willing to invest in good PPE."

The path to the right work shoe

Initially, a hazard assessment has to be carried out in the workplace. Is the employee subject to mechanical impacts such as objects falling, pointy or sharp objects, or uneven or inclined ground? Does he/she work with electrical voltage or at extreme levels of heat or cold? Is there direct contact with chemicals? Are weather-resistant shoes required? The market offers a wide range of work shoes without toe caps as well as safety and heavy-duty safety shoes with a corresponding cap according to the risk of hazard. This toe cap can be made of steel, aluminium or plastic, and protects against impact as well as the exposure to pressure. Still very common are the steel caps. Plastic and aluminium have the advantage of being relatively lighter. Independent of the material used, it is important that the transition to the upper part of the shoe is padded so that no pressure or abrasion points result.

According to EN 20345, heavy-duty safety boots (always with a protective toe cap) are essentially differentiated into the categories S1 to S3. With this, the S1 shoes fulfil all basic requirements, have an additional closed heel area, are antistatic and can absorb energy over the heel padding. That is necessary, because the heel bone can already break at a fall or jump of 50 cm in height, which, by the way, frequently leads to occupational injury pensions. Shoes in the category S2 are additionally watertight; S3 shoes also have a penetration-resistant profiled outer sole. Safety shoes (abbreviation P) also have a protective toe cap. In comparison the toe cap of heavy-duty safety boots with 100 joules, it absorbs only half of the impact energy. Occupational footwear do not have the same requirements with regard to the toe cap (Details on the characteristics of occupational, safety and heavy-duty safety boots– see information box).

Safety, wear comfort and look

Which foot protection is suitable for which employees depends on the type of activity and the work environment. A painter for putting up wallpaper and painting an apartment is adequately equipped with work shoes. For expansion or façade work, heavy-duty safety boots should be worn. In chemical plants it is frequently necessary to wear category S3 or S4 heavy-duty safety boots. For roofers working on inclined levels, the sole has to be extremely slip-resistant. For employees working in a transport and logistics company, climate comfort must also be focused upon in addition to safety. For employees on wind farms, offshore installations or for steel builders, it is important that the shoes are light and do not "slip down” while climbing and that the middle sole is suitable for the angular steps of a ladder. In the microchip or paint industry, ESD shoes are often necessary. They should prevent electrostatic discharge. In any case, the requirements a shoe has to fulfil must be initially checked. In German Professional Trade Association (BG) regulation 191 "Use of Foot and Knee Protection”, there is a checklist with indications.

Ideally, the personal characteristics of employees are included in making an assessment - e.g. if someone twists their ankle easily or needs insoles. After the age of 40, a reduction in muscle mass and weak ligaments lead to changes in the foot. Arising skew, flat and splay feet often cause pain. Furthermore, the fat pads in the feet become thinner with increasing age and the sensitivity to pressure in the feet often increases. The demographic development has moreover had the consequence of an increasing number of people being reliant upon orthopaedic shoes.

Deciding factors for a high level of shoe wear comfort in the meantime are, besides the weight of the sole, the attenuation for the forefoot and heel, the fit and the material used. To satisfy various wide feet, there are multiple-width systems on the market. Otter regulates that over an individual footbed by the insole specialist Ortholite in three versions for example. Elten, also an exhibitor at the 2013 A+A, even provides nine variations: three different insoles and three lasts. Steitz Secura will attend the 2013 A+A again with four different widths and more and more manufacturers offer shoes with women’s lasts.

The sole should be designed in such a way that the foot can carry out its natural flex action during walking. The shoe must fold in at the height of the metatarsophalangeal joint and the shoe should be firm between the middle foot and the heal. Whereby, the sole can pinched, as is done by Steitz Secura, or modelled out of foam or moulded, as is the case with Elten or Atlas (also A+A exhibitors). A double-layer process is common. Here, the outer profile of the sole is joined with a sole core and in this way, optimizes the attenuation characteristics.

At a progressive age, these attenuation values are necessary. Steitz Secura offers different attenuation elements to individually reduce the pressure load in the heel area in order to relieve the wearer’s back. Due to problems in the forefoot and the ball area increasing with age, the possibility to vary with different elements also exists here. Atlas calls its attenuation system "Power Point”. It is integrated into the shoe and intercepts impact shock in the heel area. On it soles, Otter concentrates on the attenuation of impact shock and vibration over the entire tread area.

Seeing that many accidents happen due to sprains, Elten offers the so-called guard cuffs. These protectors with the name "Biomex Protection System” were developed with the Gut Clinic in St. Moritz - Centre for Accident Surgery, Orthopaedics and Sport. Here, the shaft and heel area are encompassed by a flexible cuff made of plastic. Pivot points and a series of slotted holes provide for high flexibility.

Source of Inspiration - Sport and Outdoor Activities

It can generally be said that materials are getting lighter and lighter. Whether for postmen, electricians or heating engineers - modern work shoes do not differentiate much from those deriving from the fields of athletics or sport. An example for this would be "Black Eagle” from the A+A exhibitor Haix. It is a light leather or textile shoe for the police, which can also be worn in everyday life. Initially, this was only available as occupational footwear. For the 2013 A+A, Haix is now offering the "Black Eagle Safety” with a toe cap and a penetration-resistant sole. Uvex will be presenting a newly developed shoe at the A+A which is made of microfibres that does not have seams. "This increases the durability and minimizes the risk of abrasive seams,” said Joachim Flemming, responsible for shoes at the company in Fürth.

New laminate technologies allow for the production of shoes which are made of a high percentage of textiles and are therefore clearly lighter. They are wafer-thin, watertight and breathable at the same time. "On the whole, the demand for Goretex shoes has increased for employees involved in multi-functional activities or work outdoors altogether,” commented Arnd Hoch, managing director at Steitz Secura.

Thereby, there are seldom constraints on the design anymore. "People are resorting more and more to fashionable products,” said Sven Seliger from W. L. Gore & Associates (also an A+A exhibitor). "They are also appreciated for leisure because they are especially durable and robust.” Influences from the field of outdoor activities and sport can be implemented well with the new materials. Steitz just launched a retro series on the occasion of its 150th anniversary. Elten offers safety sneakers à la Chucks that, despite their fashionable look, comply with S2 and S3 safety requirements.

The modern work shoe perfectly matches to the work clothing. For both, it is a combination of safety, capability and a hip contemporary design. Visitors to the 2013 A+A at the beginning of November in Düsseldorf will receive an overview of the current market trends.