51,340 workers in the United States injured their feet badly enough in 2011 to need time off from work, according to the U. S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics. If you include injuries from slips, trips and falls, then foot-related injuries jump to nearly 25% of all disabling workplace injuries. While you can’t eliminate these injuries, you can prevent them with changes in footwear, worksites and work practices.
Footwear: Protective footwear can protect your feet against being crushed, punctured, cut, burned and shocked, as well as prevent twisted ankles and broken bones from slips and falls.
The U. S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires employers to provide protective footwear at no cost to all employees who need it. Exceptions include rubber boots, off-the-shelf work boots and steel-toe footwear, as well as footwear with metatarsal protection. OSHA also requires employers to train their employees in how to use protective footwear and then make sure that they wear it on the job.
You can’t buy just any kind of protective footwear, though. According to OSHA, protective footwear has to meet or exceed one of three standards: ASTM F-2412-2005 and ASTM F-2413-2005, ANSI Z41-1999 or ANSI Z41-1991. Each has impact and compression resistance minimums and measures optional protection against other hazards, such as puncture resistance, electric shock protection and metatarsal protection. Footwear that meets these standards must be labeled on one shoe or boot in the pair.
In addition, protective footwear must meet each employee’s individual needs. Maurice McClurg has an excellent list of footwear needs for 14 different fields over at EHS Today. Here’s a more general list from the Texas Department of Insurance (TDI):
- An inner side that goes straight from the heel to the end of the big toe.
- A firm grip on the heel.
- Plenty of room for the toes and toe movement.
- A fastening across the instep to prevent the foot from slipping.
- Flat soles or a low, wide heel.
Worksite: You can eliminate or lessen foot dangers as well as tripping and slipping hazards by making changes at your worksite. These changes can reduce fatigue and foot pain and increase your comfort and safety at work.
EHS Today has some suggestions in its 10-step foot safety checklist:
- Control traffic in areas shared by vehicles and pedestrians with safety mirrors, warning signs and other measures. If possible, install dedicated pathways for pedestrians and vehicular traffic. These changes will prevent collisions and crushed feet.
- Don’t remove guards from saws, mowers and other power tools and equipment. This will prevent injuries of all kinds, including crushed, punctured and cut feet.
- Keep worksites clean. This will prevent slips, trips and falls, as well as puncture wounds and cuts from debris like nails.
- Improve visibility around stairs, ramps and passageways. This will prevent trips and falls.
Fatigue and foot pain also contribute to accidents by reducing your alertness and increasing your carelessness. According to TDI, you can reduce foot pain by laying down padding on hard floors or issuing footwear with cushioned soles and shock-absorbing insoles. To reduce fatigue, rotate between jobs and modify your workstation so you can change your body position or rest your feet; even a chair or footrest will do.
Work Practices: Employers aren’t the only people responsible for foot safety. Employees are, too.
Remember, carelessness contributes to foot injuries, says Linda J. Sherrard at Occupational Health & Safety magazine. Protective footwear doesn’t work if you don’t wear it, and you can drop heavy loads and crush your feet if you use improper lifting techniques. Therefore, you can avoid foot injuries by wearing protective footwear at worksites and following proper safety and lifting procedures.
Sherrard, Linda J. “A Fresh Approach to Foot Protection.” Occupational Health & Safety. Occupational Health & Safety, 1 Apr. 2009. Web. 13 Aug. 2013. < http://ohsonline.com/articles/2009/04/01/fresh-approach-to-foot-protection.aspx >.
“Foot Protection.” Texas Department of Insurance. Texas Department of Insurance Division of Workers’ Compensation, n.d. Web. 13 Aug. 2013. < http://www.tdi.texas.gov/pubs/videoresource/wpfootprot.pdf >.
“Foot Protection. – 1910.136.” Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Occupational Safety and Health Administration, n.d. Web. 13 Aug. 2013. < https://www.osha.gov/pls/oshaweb/owadisp.show_document?p_id=9786&p_table=standards >.
“Foot Safety Basics: A 10-Point Checklist.” EHS Today. EHS Today, 17 June 2002. Web. 13 Aug. 2013. < http://ehstoday.com/ppe/foot-protection/ehs_imp_35558 >.
“General Requirements. – 1910.132.” Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Occupational Safety and Health Administration, n.d. Web. 13 Aug. 2013. < https://www.osha.gov/pls/oshaweb/owadisp.show_document?p_table=STANDARDS >.
McClurg, Maurice. “Work Footwear: One Size Does Not Fit All.” EHS Today. EHS Today, 5 Oct. 2012. Web. 13 Aug. 2013. < http://ehstoday.com/foot-protection/work-footwear-one-size-does-not-fit-all?page=1 >.
“Nonfatal Occupational Injuries and Illnesses Requiring Days Away from Work, 2011.”United States Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics. United States Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics, 8 Nov. 2012. Web. 13 Aug. 2013. < http://www.bls.gov/news.release/pdf/osh2.pdf >.
“Protective Footwear Requirements – Quick Tips #252.” W.W. Grainger, Inc. W.W. Grainger, Inc, 2012. Web. 13 Aug. 2013. < http://www.grainger.com/Grainger/static/protective-footwear-standards-252.html >.