In the past, safety boots always seemed to be a contradiction to me. We all know we need to protect our feet and toes. However, I have had uncomfortable boots in the past and I have seen my fair share of workers limping on jobs from their safety boots.
Here is one of my recent reminders of the need. I was setting my power miter saw on its stand at home a few months ago to cut some boards. I had gotten lazy and set up the stand close to my wife’s SUV. After I thought the saw was attached to the stand, I let it go and, surprise; the saw tipped backwards off the stand and fell to the ground. Fortunately, the saw just barely hit my toes and since I was wearing safety toe boots, I was not injured.
Unfortunately, the saw then proceeded to rotate further and hit the lower door of the SUV and dented it. My first thought was, if the saw dented metal, what could it have done to my toes? My second thought was, how am I going to tell my wife? I’ll let you imagine how the conversation with my wife went!
The topic of comfort is far easier! There have been incredible advancements with the comfort and technology of safety boots. They have advanced insoles, anti-microbial linings, soft inner liners, wicking liners, multi-layer soles and speed lacing systems. Sounds like the latest tennis shoe or hiking boot, right?
However, I still see pictures on social media of restoration technicians wearing tennis shoes and experienced contractors showing up at jobsites without safety boots. Maybe you have difficulty getting your restoration technicians to wear safety boots, even with the vast selection of types and brands.
So how do you, as a restoration company owner or project manager, change this mindset? Let me provide seven basic ways to do this.
1. Understand what is required.
OSHA requires foot protection any time there are hazards that can cause injuries to the foot, such as falling or rolling objects. The requirement also includes potential piercing of the sole or electrical hazards (see OSHA Section 1910.136 (a)). OSHA then goes further and specifies that boots shall meet specific standards created by the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM). The current standard is ASTM F2413-18.
I’ll make this easy. Look at the tag inside safety boots or on the tongue. It will tell what standards those boots meet. Here is a picture of the tag in my boots. The first line shows they met the ASTM standard (F2413-17) at the time they were made and are still acceptable today.
The second line shows an “M”, which stands for Male, and I/75 C/75 means the toe can withstand impacts of up to 75 foot-pounds and compressive loads to 2,500 pounds.
Finally, the third line shows any additional ratings. In my case the EH means the boot can withstand 18,000 volts at 60 hertz for one minute with no current flow of more than 1.0 milliampere. Not all boots will have additional ratings. More on that later.
So, I know that my boots protect my toes from crushing and my feet from electrical shock.
2. Understand additional protection options.
- Type of safety toe: There are a few basic options – steel toe, composite toe and carbon fiber toe. If the boots meet the ANSI standard, then the primary difference in these choices is weight.
- Metatarsal guard: This provides protection of the upper part of the foot where the bootlaces are.
- Electrical protection: As mentioned above, some boots can actually protect you from shock through the soles of the boot. This is “EH” rating you’ll see on the boot tag. This is a great feature for the restoration industry, where employees are often walking on wet surfaces that could easily conduct electricity.
- Slip resistance: For all industries, this is a great feature. I personally can slip or trip on anything. The fact that my boot will give me better traction is fantastic!
- Waterproof: This is very simple. The restoration industry works in wet conditions! Dry feet are critical for comfort. You can always change into rubber boots, and you’ll want to for Category 2 or 3 water, but if the water is not hazardous, why not consider this feature?
3. Find boots and insoles that fit your feet.
The difference is amazing. For me, my safety boots are more comfortable than my tennis shoes. This is especially true when climbing stairs, climbing ladders and walking on concrete surfaces.
I have watched, like clockwork, employees with worn out or poor fitting boots on large loss jobs (long days, long weeks and miles of walking) begin to limp on day four or five. Their feet can’t take it anymore because their boots aren’t providing the cushion, support or breathability they need. Their only hope is quality safety boots that fit well.
4. Consider reimbursing employees for safety boots.
I have seen this range from full-cost reimbursement to a fixed annual amount. The point here is to provide encouragement and a financial break to employees. Most safety boots that I have seen recently cost $100 to $200 a pair. For many employees, a $200 unplanned expense can be hard on their paycheck.
As an employer, compare the cost of a $100 a year safety boot reimbursement to a worker’s compensation claim for broken toes or feet. The National Safety Council states that the average cost for a Workers Compensation claim was $42,008 in 2018 to 2019. Of course, an employer will only pay a deductible cost. However, what is your deductible amount and how will a claim affect your rates next year?
5. Research boot vendor programs.
I recently signed up for two programs at no cost to the company and with many benefits to employees. One of the programs has employees going to brick-and-mortar stores of a major boot brand to purchase boots at a moderate discount (along with a partial company reimbursement). The other program is online only, represents many different boot brands, and provides free shipping and returns. I had assumed that these vendor programs would require fees paid by the company and/or minimum purchase quantities. With our company of roughly 70 people qualifying for safety boots, there were no fees or minimum quantities.
For example, Red Wing Shoes has a program that allows an employer to create a voucher online with the agreed-upon reimbursement amount. The employee can then take the voucher to his/her local Red Wing store. The employer then receives an invoice via email for the reimbursement amount.
In contrast, Lehigh Safety Shoes has a shoe program that is completely online. It allows an employee to select from a huge choice of boot manufacturers and the reimbursement amount is applied at purchase. Shipping and returns are free. Again, the employer will receive an invoice via email for the reimbursement amount.
6. Make safety boots a required part of your company’s professional attire.
In the restoration industry, I have never understood why techs would wear tennis shoes for work that involves walking through water (…or sewage or biohazards), standing in water and moving heavy equipment. To me, wearing tennis shoes is just asking for wet feet, injured toes or a nail puncture wound. Require the boots to meet the OSHA/ASTM standards. Also consider requiring boots be waterproof and EH rated. Explain to employees how these boots will protect them and are part of professional service industry attire. Include these requirements as part of new-hire agreements so that prospective employees understand the commitment up front.
7. Set an example.
This is also very simple. Restoration company owners and managers should wear safety boots at jobsites. Become a safety leader and set an example. The employees will watch what you do and what you say. By setting the example, it will become the standard for the company.