Fancy Footwork


January 1, 2008

Personal protective equipment extends from the head to the toes.  Don’t forget the right footwear — it may save lives.

Mining is dangerous work and federal regulations require that all workers “wear suitable protective footwear when in or around an area of a mine or plant where a hazard exists which could cause injury to the feet.” Miners spend their days slogging through mines, walking on sand, gravel, mud, rocks, concrete, and steel. Sharp and heavy objects move around them. They climb ladders and walk on catwalks. They work with large machines in precarious situations including inclines, ditches, close quarters, and other irregular terrain. Surfaces are often hard or oily and wet, and electrical shocks may occur. Proper foot protection is essential.

In a mine environment, feet are susceptible to two major categories of work-related injuries. The first includes injuries caused by impact, compression, and puncture. A foot could be crushed, sprained, or cut in this type of accident, which accounts for 10 percent of all reported disabling injuries. The other type of injury results from slips, trips, and falls, which account for about 15 percent of all reported disabling injuries. Slips and falls do not always result in foot injuries, but footwear and foot safety play a role in their occurrence.

Other foot problems such as calluses, ingrown toenails, and tired feet also contribute to the comfort, productivity, and safety of workers. These may not be considered occupational injuries in the strictest sense, but they may cause discomfort, pain, and fatigue that lead to more serious ailments and become a safety issue. Painful and tired feet could prevent a worker from moving quickly to avoid an accident or cause a misstep, which results in a slip or fall or other type of accident that could cause serious injuries. Better footwear helps with these ailments as well.

What shoes and even what socks miners and other workers choose to wear on their feet is an important aspect of their health and safety that can easily be controlled and monitored. According to the Mine Safety and Health Administration’s (MSHA) Program Policy Manual when discussing footwear, “Most mining company safety requirements for protective footwear are more stringent than the MSHA standard. A company policy requiring everyone to wear protective footwear at all times at the mining operation is easier to implement and provides better protection than determining individual situation where protective footwear is required.” This is easy. Require hard-toe shoes or boots at a minimum for all personnel working in a mine.

Obviously, if workers are in an office all day, hard-toe shoes are not practical or comfortable. In an office and at some industrial sites, static electricity or electrical charges may harm workers. Shoes with soles that provide electric shock resistance should be required in these places. If workers are on their feet all day on unforgiving concrete and other rock-hard surfaces, extra cushioning may help extend comfort levels. Ethylene vinyl acetate copolymer (EVA) is a lightweight material used to make the soles of footwear suitable for this type of work environment. EVA soles are comfortable and flexible as well as tough. Shoes with high heels and pointed toes, that lack arch support, or are generally too tight or too loose are also poor choices for work that requires standing or walking on hard surfaces for long periods of time.

Truck and other heavy equipment operators should not wear tennis shoes or cowboy boots while they work. Quality hard-toe or steel-toe boots and shoes are expensive, but essential for safety. Most are made with leather, which is naturally tough, and are available with a range of protective features, such as slip-resistant soles, waterproofing, removable insoles, and composite toe, steel toe, or even titanium protection. Boot ankle height of 5 to 6 inches provides moderate protection from sprains by stabilizing the ankle when walking and standing, and 6 to 8 inches of height provides maximum protection for rougher terrains and environments. For some jobs, workers may want even more protection in the form of safety toecaps, grip-ons, metatarsal supports, or additional waterproofing.

Cotton socks are a poor choice for mining environments. Cotton does not dry quickly when wet and is not typically as soft and cushiony as wool or cotton/wool or cotton/synthetic blends. Wool, wool blends, and synthetic materials wick moisture from sweat or wet work environments away from the skin and dry more quickly. They are available with heel and toe reinforcements and in many thicknesses and lengths. Good socks are expensive, too, so workers should try them (ideally with their boots) before purchasing. For people who are allergic to wool or find it itchy, synthetic liners with wool socks or simply synthetic socks may be a good choice. It is not a bad idea for workers to bring extra socks to work. If they become extremely wet, a change will protect feet from clamminess, blisters, and possible infection.

Information contained in this article was provided through the MSHA-NSSGA Alliance and was written cooperatively by members of both the aggregates industry and the regulatory agency.

Follow these guidelines for fitting safety footwear.

  • Walk in new footwear to ensure that it is comfortable.

  • Boots should have ample toe room.

  • Make allowances for extra socks and arch supports.

  • Boots should fit snugly around the heel and ankle when laced.

  • Lace up boots fully; the ankle height provides support against ankle injury.

  • Use a protective coating to boost water resistance.

  • Inspect boots regularly for damage and repair or replace if worn or defective.

  • Remember that shock resistance is greatly reduced by wet conditions and wear.

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