Foot Safety in the Workplace
Footwear is often overlooked, but the right type can make a significant difference in workplace safety. Using the wrong kind of footwear in the workplace increases the risk of foot injuries and other work-related injuries. As a result, employers must actively promote foot safety in the workplace.
Facts About Footwear Safety in the Workplace
Foot injuries are one of the most common workplace injuries. Every year, there are more than 40,000 cases of occupational foot injuries involving an employee missing at least one day of work. Work-related foot injuries can cause significant pain, temporary disability, and even permanent or long-term partial disability.
Slips, trips, and falls are common causes of work-related foot injuries. In fact, according to data from the National Council on Compensation Insurance, the average workers’ compensation claim in 2019 and 2020 was $41,353. However, the average claim from slips and falls for the same period was $48,575, which was above the overall average.
Faulty footwear can cause slips, trips, and falls. The National Floor Safety Institute (NFSI) estimates that 24% of slips, trips, and falls result from unsafe or improper footwear. Slips typically occur when there’s a loss of balance or inadequate friction between footwear and the ground. Different ground surfaces create slip and fall hazards. Slips, trips, and falls were the third leading cause of occupational injuries involving missed work days in 2020.
One of the initial steps in helping prevent slips, trips, and falls is selecting footwear with the ideal sole and style for the work environment and job being done. Work footwear that provides good resistance (a high coefficient of friction footwear) helps prevent slipping.
Studies have shown the importance of footwear to foot protection in the workplace. Harvard researchers established a link between foot pain and poor balance, which make it easier for people to fall. Footwear with ergonomically designed insoles, for instance, can provide maximum comfort and improve balance and body weight distribution. That reduces discomfort, localized fatigue, and the risk of injury.
According to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report on healthcare workers, contaminants like grease, water, and other fluids on the floor are the leading cause of slips, trips, and falls in healthcare facilities. One of the solutions the agency provides is the use of proper footwear, specifically slip-resistant shoes.
National Institute for Occupational Safety & Health (NIOSH) researchers conducted a study to evaluate the effectiveness of a slip-resistant shoe program in preventing slip injuries and workers’ compensation claims among food service workers from different school districts. There was a 67% reduction in the number of slips and slip-related claims filed in the school districts where the food service workers received the highly-rated slip-resistant shoes.
The findings help show how much organizations can benefit from a comprehensive protective footwear program. Foot and leg protection options like safety-toed boots or shoes, toe guards, metatarsal guards, heat-resistant soles, and leggings help protect workers from other hazards that cause foot and leg injuries, such as rolling or falling objects, penetrating or crushing materials, electrical hazards, and poisonous, hot, or corrosive substances.
The High Cost of Neglecting Foot Protection
Improper footwear can cause discomfort and injury, causing a decline in worker productivity and job satisfaction. According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median number of days lost due to work-related foot injuries was 13 in 2020. A foot injury can put a worker out of work for weeks or cause a permanent disability. Foot injuries can cost thousands of dollars in workers’ compensation and lost productivity.
When you add the potential workers’ compensation, lost productivity, additional hires, and cost of sanctions and fines for failing to comply with foot safety regulations, neglecting foot safety in the workplace can cost a company dearly. The 2016 Liberty Mutual Workplace Safety Index reported that disabling, work-related slips and trips without falls, falls to a lower level, and falls on the same level had direct costs of $2.35 billion, $5.4 billion, and $10.17 billion, respectively.
Giving employees appropriate protective footwear reduces injury, thus cutting lost work hours, improving productivity, and boosting employee morale.
Different Workplaces Need Different Types of Work Shoes
Different workplaces present different dangers to workers. As a result, the ideal type of protective work shoes differs depending on the workplace hazards.
People who work with or close to electrical hazards, such as faulty wiring, overloaded sockets, overhead power lines, and live wires, require proper electrical personal protective equipment (PPE). Electrical PPE for foot protection, like dielectric boots, overshoes, and over-boots, provides insulation from electric shock.
Construction workers, welders, loading dockworkers, and other individuals whose work environments put their feet at risk of being injured by tools or objects dropping from a height require footwear that can protect the top of the foot from impact and compression. Metatarsal and toe guards, for instance, can protect the toes and instep area of the foot from falling items.
People who work on hot surfaces or with hot objects can suffer severe on-the-job injuries. Footwear with heat-resistant soles can help protect workers from injuries caused by hot surfaces. These are helpful in the hot metal, roofing, and paving industries. Foundry shoes come with built-in safety toes and insulate the feet of molten metalworkers from extreme heat.
Work environments that involve water, oil, ice, and other wet or slippery conditions create a high risk of workers suffering slip and fall injuries. Using slip-resistant shoes is one of the most important foot protection safety tips for people who work in such job sites.
Static electricity buildup could cause a fire or explosion at some hazardous locations, such as grain elevators and facilities that manufacture explosives. Electrically conductive shoes protect workers against static electricity buildup.
Reduce Injuries With OSHA Approved Footwear in Chicago
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) operates under the Department of Labor and is tasked with assuring safe working conditions for American laborers. State and local government workplaces in Chicago are covered by Illinois OSHA. Federal OSHA covers federal government workers and private sector employers and their workers. Illinois OSHA follows all federal OSHA workplace safety standards. Adhering to OSHA standards helps prevent personal injury, improve workplace safety, and lower the number of workers’ compensation claims.
OSHA has numerous rules and regulations on workplace safety, including occupational foot protection. It requires workers in industrial settings to use protective footwear. OSHA requires employers to ensure employees use protective footwear when working in places that pose dangers to feet. Examples of situations where protective footwear may be essential include:
- The presence of electrical hazards
- When heavy objects could roll onto the feet
- Working on hot, wet, or slippery ground surfaces
- Exposure to molten metal that could splash on the feet or legs
- Sharp objects that could pierce the upper part or soles of ordinary shoes
What Is Protective Footwear?
OSHA requires protective footwear to comply with consensus standards. While OSHA dictates the use of safety footwear and other PPE, ASTM (American Society for Testing and Materials) International is the organization that establishes protective footwear’s performance requirements in the United States. It sets the minimum standards for footwear performance against workplace hazards like impact and compression.
Experts review the current ASTM protective footwear standards every five years and revise them if necessary. Safety footwear should comply with the current ASTM standards. For example, ASTM 3445-21, which sets the standard for slip resistance, was introduced in June 2021. According to this standard, a shoe must have a coefficient of friction of 0.40 or higher on both dry and wet surfaces to be considered slip-resistant. ASTM standards require work boots to be rated in different categories, with a higher rating indicating greater protection to workers.
OSHA requires employers to assess the workplace and determine the present hazards and the footwear that can mitigate those hazards. The assessment can be conducted by a consultant or the company’s safety personnel. Employers must then communicate the special footwear requirements to employees.
If the identified hazards can’t be eliminated through engineering or administrative controls, the employer may provide the appropriate footwear. If employees have their own PPE, the employer should ensure the equipment meets the necessary requirements.
OSHA recommends that footwear be checked regularly to determine whether it needs cleaning or replacement. Employees should follow the cleaning and maintenance recommendations of protective footwear manufacturers.
Failure of employers to follow OSHA regulations puts employee safety at risk and attracts warnings, sanctions, and fines.
What If You Suffer a Work-Related Foot Injury?
Despite all the regulations, workplace accidents and injuries can occur. If you suffer an on-the-job foot injury, you may be entitled to workers’ compensation. You can receive workers’ compensation benefits even if you had a prior or pre-existing foot injury and the work injury aggravated it. A workers’ compensation attorney can help you file a claim and answer any questions you have, such as “How long can I receive benefits for a work injury?”
The Illinois workers’ compensation system provides benefits irrespective of who’s at fault for a worker’s injuries. However, your employer and its workers’ compensation insurer can make it more difficult for you to navigate the workers’ compensation process and receive benefits by contesting your claim. For example, if you sustain a foot injury while not wearing the proper footwear, they may allege that you violated the company’s dress policy. In such a case, you may need to show that your employer knew you weren’t wearing the right footwear and allowed you to continue working. Knowing what to say and what not to say to your workers’ comp doctor is another issue that could lead to the denial of your claim. A workers’ compensation attorney’s assistance can be beneficial in such circumstances.