Every year, OSHA cites a handful of companies for violations of its foot protection standard, but about 200,000 workers experience toe or foot injuries annually, as reported by the National Safety Council. OSHA’s personal protective equipment (PPE) standard dealing with footwear (29 CFR 1910.136) requires protection “where there is danger of foot injuries due to falling or rolling objects, or objects piercing the sole and where exposed to electrical hazards.” Part of the problem is that employers and employees may not know how to select the proper foot protection.
Employers should go beyond OSHA’s sketchy guidelines, according to Michael Ziskin, a consultant who specializes in PPE in industry and on hazardous waste sites. Ziskin, Chairman of the American Industrial Hygiene Association’s Protective Clothing and Equipment Committee, states, “The more you know about the limitations of the products, the less you know about how they will perform in specific work situations.” It’s up to employers to determine how the products will be used and how effective they will be for the tasks. Foot-related risks can include everything from chemical hazards and heavy objects to slippery or uneven surfaces that can cause slips and falls.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 329,000 lost workdays from slips and falls in 1994. This proved the need for shoes that provide good traction. When working in the healthcare or chemical industries, boots and shoes made of rubber, PVC, or neoprene (depending on the chemical) are needed. Needless to say, if you’ve been in a hospital, you see all types of workers – doctors, nurses, lab techs, etc. wearing those funny looking shoe covers. They protect everyone – you, the patients, the surroundings, and objects that may be touched. Medical personnel are also able to protect themselves against splatters, liquids, and chemicals that may be dangerous.
In industrial settings, steel-toed boots are a must. They protect the foot from impact and compression injuries; sixty per cent of all foot injuries are caused by falling objects. If there are electrical hazards, a fiberglass toe should replace a typical steel toe. Plastic shoe covers protect the shoes in dirty work environments.
Having a successful foot protection program depends on the employer doing their homework on assessing all of the hazards involved in the workplace, and using engineering controls, work practices, and providing the proper safety footwear. Workers should also be trained to mark spills until they can be cleaned up. They should ensure that the footwear is comfortable; otherwise, it might not be worn. Take the “right steps” to see that everyone walks away from the job safely at the end of the day!