Footwear is included in the Personal Protective Equipment section of the Occupational Safety and Health Standards. The section on foot protection points to issues relevant to employers in the construction, industrial, government and service fields.
Although OSHA dictates the use of PPE, ASTM International is the organization that sets the performance requirements for protective footwear in the United States. ASTM International is a leader in developing and publishing technical standards for a wide range of products and is recognized globally as a dominant and respected standards organization. It is a requisite for safety footwear in the United States to comply with ASTM. Every five years, committees of experts review the standards to ensure they are comprehensive and up to date, revising if necessary, to meet the evolving needs of industries and consumers. The most current safety footwear standard was just released in 2017.
Protective footwear must comply with the ASTM International standard F2413 (current version: F2413-17). This is the Standard Specification for Performance Requirements for Protective (Safety) Toe Cap Footwear. ASTM International standard F2412 (current version: F2412-18) is the Standard Test Methods for Foot Protection. Both standards are under the jurisdiction of ASTM Committee F13 on Pedestrian/Walkway Safety and Footwear.
ASTM International standards set forth minimum requirements for the performance of footwear to provide protection against a variety of workplace hazards. One such hazard is “impact,” indicative of falling or dropping objects onto the foot. A weight of 50 pounds is dropped from an approximate height of 18 inches, delivering 75 ft-lbs of force onto the toe of the shoe. Test results meeting the performance criteria allow the shoe to be labeled as I/75.
Resistance to “compression” provides protection from rolling objects. A shoe that withstands 2,500 pounds of force onto the toe can be labeled as C/75.
ASTM F2413 requires compression- and impact-resistant shoes to have built-in toe caps (i.e., the safety toe caps are not removable). These shoes must be labeled as I/75/C/75. Beyond compression and impact resistance, shoes required for different types of jobs will reflect their own specific list of standards. For example, a shoe buyer might find an ASTM-certified product with the following designation:
Each industry requires safety shoes designed to confront specific dangers. For example, safety toe shoes are needed for jobs in the construction industry where the danger of heavy objects dropping on workers’ feet is a daily concern. Heat-resistant soles protect feet against hot surfaces in paving, roofing and hot metal industries. Electrically conductive shoes protect against the buildup of static electricity to reduce the risk of a spark causing a fire or explosion (and should not be worn with nylon, wool, or silk socks). Electric hazard shoes prevent a wearer from completing a circuit with the ground. They are meant as a secondary source of electric hazard protection to the wearer against the hazards of stepping on live electrical circuits, electrically energized conductors, parts or apparatus. The shoes are capable of withstanding the application of 18,000 V at 60 Hz for 1 minute, with no current flow or leakage current in excess of 1.0 mA under dry conditions. Electrical hazard protection is severely deteriorated in wet conditions.
It is important to understand the unique hazards of what your job entails and wear the appropriate footwear. Safety is rarely a one-size-fits-all endeavor. Fortunately, shoe manufacturers and retailers can guide workers to the appropriate pair of shoes for their jobs. The more dangerous the position, the more likely the shoe will be created for a narrower range of challenges. Consider the fact that firefighters select from product lines created just for them (and regulated by a separate NFPA standard), while electrical-hazard shoes are designed specifically for workplaces where there is a risk of stepping on live wires.
Check safety shoes at regular intervals to determine whether they should be replaced or, at a minimum, cleaned. Any time a heavy object hits a safety toe, the boot’s toe could be compromised and needs to be replaced. Pieces of metal or other contaminants embedded in shoe soles should be removed immediately. Shoes should be regularly cleaned and maintained for both safety and increased longevity.