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21st century safety footwear

07 December 2016

HSM speaks to David Clark, UK managing director of the Hultafors Group - which designs and manufactures the Solid Gear and Toe Guard brands of safety shoes and boots - about the future of protective footwear.

It's said that the origins of safety boots go back to the time when the steel toe capped boot was invented in Germany towards the end of World War II. But it's well known that protective footwear for factory workers and miners existed well before then with shoes and boots made of thick leather.

You could argue that the origins go back further with clogs and even canvas and metal diving boots which, although they were designed to keep divers feet firmly on the sea bed, they did also provide some form of protection too.

Protective footwear has obviously moved on in light years since those times, but, according to David Clark, UK managing director of the Hultafors Group, some of today's poorly designed and non-compliant safety footwear is as comfortable as diving boots and clogs.

"The design, development and manufacture of 21st century safety footwear is controlled by the regulatory framework provided by the European Directives for Personal Protective Equipment, which ensures that every safety footwear product is designed to offer the right protection in compliance with these safety standards," observes David.

"While regulatory requirements heavily influence safety design and development, product innovation, behavioural safety and user attitudes to style and design are key drivers for the leading safety footwear brands. In recent years there has been an increase in the use of behavioural safety or behaviour modification approaches to safety, which involve the definition of 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 lackadasical behaviour at work. In terms of the overall management of health and safety practices at work, effective behavioural awareness among the workforce does reduce risk and injury."

For safety footwear manufacturers David believes this issue is complemented by design and fashion influences. "Many manufacturers see product design, aesthetics and style as key factors in encouraging workers to wear safety footwear," he notes. "It’s a highly efficient vehicle for increasing workforce participation in health and safety programmes. Thus their behaviour and actions influence the overall health and safety culture in an organisation. For brand leaders, ‘Performance Through Innovation’, is a key philosophy is modernising safety footwear and satisfying not only regulatory requirements, but end user needs and attitudes.

"Using modern high-tech materials in safety footwear, high protection safety footwear doesn’t mean having a ‘heavy boot’. Whilst there will always be boots in any safety footwear range, the most modern safety shoes can be lightweight, sporty products if they’re reinforced with state-of-the-art materials and the most modern technical fibres.

"In terms of what inspires our product development, it’s ultimately the specific needs of professional craftsmen on site. Our objective is simply to deliver the best quality safety footwear on the market. That is why we work with suppliers known for their state-of-the-art Material, such as Gore-Tex for water protection and its ability to breathe, Vibram soles for grip and durability, BOA Closure System for easy adjustments and Cordura fabric for hardwearing durability.

"While quality materials technology are at the heart of our product range, product design and choice has to reflect the environments in which products are worn – freezing cold weather or hot, arid environments – to deliver safety and protection wherever our customers are."