The Ultimate Guide to Work Safety Footwear

Our dependence on our feet when it comes to laborious work cannot be stressed enough, and making sure that they are adequately taken care of is at the top of the list of importance. This ranges from overall foot health – such as making sure your foot doesn’t get into bad habits, to making sure they are well protected from the hazards that are present in your specific workplace.

In this guide, we’ll answer some basic questions along with some in-depth ones, like what safety footwear is, what regulations and qualities exist, the jobs that require some form of safety footwear, and finally an exhaustive list of appropriate qualities to look for when dealing with a variety of environments.


What is Safety Footwear?

It might seem fairly obvious, but it is all in the name: a piece of footwear that keeps your feet safe and protected while you are hard at work, preventing any possible injuries or bad outcomes from having a permanent impact on your feet. In this upcoming section, we’ll better describe to you the hazards that exist, and how to choose the appropriate shoes for you.

This task isn’t as straightforward as it seems. For example, you may think that a steel-toed work boot is a classic, and should be “good enough”. Is that really the case? Footwear designed for protection often enough has very specific uses that they excel in, and if you try to use a “jack of all trades” approach, you run the risk of not being adequately prepared for the issues that are unique to your workplace.

For any workplace, you will likely be greeted with a list of potential hazards you will be exposing yourself to when starting the job, as is protocol. If that isn’t enough, on your own accord you could have a walkthrough survey of the facility or area you’ll be working in, and develop a list of potential hazards you see with your own eyes.

During your walkthrough, look for sources of electricity, motion (machines or processes), high temperatures, the types of chemicals in use, sources of dust, sources of radiation (be it welding, brazing, cutting, heat treating, intense lights, etc), as well as the potential for falling objects, sharp objects, or biological hazards (blood or other potentially infected matter).

Here are some of the basic categories you can use to categorize them into quickly:

Impact, Penetration, Compression (roll-overs), Chemical, Extreme Temperature (Hot/Cold), Harmful Dust, Radiation, and Biological.

While not all of these are pertinent to footwear, all together they help paint a clear picture of the type of protection you’ll be needing. 


What Qualities Matter?

You will find that all safety shoes must adhere to ASTM F2413 in some capacity. This is the Standard Specification for Performance Requirements for Foot Protection, covering the minimum design, performance, testing, labeling, and classification requirements criteria for shoes designed to be worn to provide you with protection against a whole host of workplace hazards that can potentially result in injury.

Here are the professional-grade qualities that must be met to be work-safe, and while no shoes conform to every single one at once, the models you’ll be looking at definitely focus on just a few aspects that are specific to the kind of job you’ll be doing. You’ll find more on that later when we get to the hazard charting section.

  • Toe Area Impact Resistance: Not necessarily a steel toe, but a protective toe cap that is a permanent part of the footwear. These come in four classes divided by gender but can be considered to be two major classes: Class 75 for 2500 pounds of force, and Class 50 for up to 1000 pounds of force. 
  • Compression Resistance: For the toe area, this is classified in the exact same way as Impact Resistance, and while they aren’t treated as interchangeable, they are much the same as they protect the toe area from heavy impacts or roll-overs.
  • Metatarsal Protection: This reduces the chance of any injury to your metatarsal bones, located at the top of the foot. Designs focusing on this are typically manufactured to have a specific metatarsal impact positioned partially over the toe cap while extending to cover the metatarsal bone area. The 75 and 50 classes still apply here as well.
  • Conductive Properties: This title may sound unusual, but this category is all about reducing hazards that can result from static electricity buildup, by extension reducing the possibility of ignition of explosives or volatile chemicals, or both.
  • Electric Shock Resistance: This type of shoe will protect the heels and toes from any and all secondary sources of electric shock resistance, giving you further protection against electric currents. 
  • Static Dissipative Properties: This type of footwear reduces excess static electricity by conducting the charge from our body to the ground while also managing to keep a high level of resistance to protect the wearer. These reduce hazards that are caused by excessively low footwear resistance, where static dissipative footwear is required and better protection of your feet. 
  • Puncture Resistance Bottoms: A shoe with this quality has a plate position right between the insole and the outsole, made of a puncture-resistant material that ensures you have safety from underneath. 
  • Chain-Saw Resistance: This type of footwear protects the foot area between the toe area and the lower leg from the ferocity of the whirling blades. This comes in the shape of either outer or interior materials that are incredibly tough and thick. 
  • Dielectric Insulation: This is a type of footwear that provides accidental insulation if you have contact with an electrical conductor or circuits by accident. You will find that this is a supplementary aspect of most electric-centric shoes, that definitely help if you step on something you shouldn’t have by sheer bad luck.

Which Jobs Require Safety Footwear?

You might be surprised at just how many jobs require some form of protective footwear. To put it simply, if there is any chance of danger, common mishaps, or situations where safety footwear provides added security and stability to your work life, chances are that your workplace will require it. These industries may include:

Construction

If you’re a construction worker or general laborer, there are a plethora of safety regulations that need to be strictly followed – one of which is safety clothing being part and parcel of the job.

Construction sites are some of the riskiest and hazardous places on the planet, with potential risk after risk from any and every direction – falling, rolling over, electric currents, punctures, the list goes on. Protective equipment is of course mandatory and in your best interest.

You’ll find that depending on your specific job the shoes you’ll be required to get vary. If you’re working with live wires, expect shoes with conductive properties and insulation. If you’re building up or tearing walls, expect steel-toe boots with thick sheets of metal across your toes, undersole, and even metatarsal area, preventing impacts, punctures, and rollovers.

Security

This may seem a little unintuitive, but security personnel spend a lot of time in action, on their feet, and in some cases, in hazardous environments. Because they are on their feet so long, they need the kind of footwear that provides great ankle and foot support while protecting them from whatever elements they may be exposed to.

In some cases, the areas they patrol may contain hazardous materials, where things like electrical wires or toxic chemicals are prevalent. For this, they may require chemical resistant soles or conductive insulation. Other times, it may be a matter of interpersonal contact, and they may need heavy-duty boots to prevent bodily harm during escalated situations and violence.

Outdoor Occupations

If you find yourself drawn to nature, or love the outdoors, you may also be finding yourself doing a lot of jobs with heavy-duty equipment like saws and woodworking machines. On top of this, the terrain you’ll find yourself in is uniquely unforgiving – mud, sleet, snow, hail, etc.

You have to grit your teeth and take it on the chin. This means you also need a shoe that is durable and protective. For these types of jobs, you’ll typically run into heavy-duty boots with steel plating or even thick layers for chainsaw-protection. Either way, these types of shoes will do you good and mean business.

Hospitality and Nursing

If you’re in the hospitality business, like working at a restaurant or BnB, or even a Nurse at an institution, you need shoes that provide protection. Now, this protection doesn’t often come in the form of insulation from currents or steel toes for impacts, but instead from non-slip soles. Nurses might also require shoes that are a certain color or style.

Accidents are commonplace in these fields, and in this environment where liquid spills are aplenty, having the right kind of outsoles makes a world of difference to keep you safe. Ample traction on the ground may not seem like it is on the same level of significance as literal chain-saw stopping-power, but it is a legitimate lifesaver – preventing slip and fall accidents by a serious margin. 


Hazards and Their Respective Footwear

As previously mentioned, there are a lot of different hazards that may crop up that are unique to your specific workplace. Because everything is so varied, and there are simply so many different qualities a safety shoe may possess, we will list out a comprehensive list of hazards and sub hazards, along with the appropriately designed shoe for the job.

If you are completely at a loss as to where to look, or what you should consider a top priority out of your footwear, take a look at these charts and see which exposures most closely resemble your workplace. Let this act as the starting point for your hunt for the perfect shoe for the job you’re doing.

Chemicals

Exposed ToAppropriate Safety Footwear Qualities
Acids
Ammonia
Fertilizers
Ethylene Glycol
Caustic Soda
Chemical Resistant Sole 
Knee-High Boot Design
Protective Toe Optional
Oils
Blood
Petroleum
Coolant
Grease
Chemical Resistant Sole
“Better” or “Best” Quality Slip Resistance
Protective Toe Optional
Frequent Immersion in Liquids

Frequent splashes of chemicals and liquids
Chemical Resistant Sole
Knee-High Boot Design
“Better” or “Best” Quality Slip Resistance
Thick Boot Cut (8 inches or more)
Protective Toe Optional

Extreme Cold

Exposed ToAppropriate Safety Footwear Qualities
Prolonged standing in cold temperatures
(outdoors or in refrigerated facilities)

Wet Conditions

Icy Conditions
Well-insulated
Waterproofed
“Better” or “Best” Slip Resistance qualities
Protective Toe Optional
Extreme Temperatures
(-20C and below)
Well-insulated 
Waterproofed
Knee-high coverage
Composite Toe Ideal
Extreme Cold Temperatures
(-20C and below)

Variety of Chemicals and other liquid hazards
Well-insulated
Chemical Resistant Sole
Waterproofed
Knee-high coverage
Composite Toe Ideal

Puncturing Hazard

Exposed ToAppropriate Safety Footwear Qualities
High Likelihood of Sharp or Protruding Objects (Surfaces or Floors)Thick leather boot design
Built-in puncture resistance
Puncture resistant insoles
Protective toe
Metal Parts That Degrade or Damage Soles Over TimeThick Leather boot design
Built-in Puncture resistance
Metal-Chip-Resistant outsoles
Protective toe
Very High Potential for Puncture from Sharp Objects and MetalsThick leather boot design
Protective toe
Option 1: Built-in Puncture Resistance 
Option 2: Metal-Chip-Resistant outsoles with Puncture-Resistant insoles


Electrical Work

Exposed ToAppropriate Safety Footwear Qualities
Possible Electrical Hazards 

Live Wires

Frequent High Voltage Exposure
Thick Rubber Boot Design
Electrical Hazard (EH) Rated Model
Approved for High Voltages and Live Wires
Protective (Composite) Toe Optional
Wet Environments with Electric and HV ExposureKnee-High Rubber Overboots
Rubber Overshoes
Dielectric Insulation
Non-Slip Outsole
Composite Toe Optional
Computer Components

Facility Generating Static via Manufacturing

Possibly Exposed to Falling Objects
Static-Dissipative Footwear
Electrical Shock Resistance
Composite Toe Ideal

Security Work

Exposed toAppropriate Safety Footwear Qualities
Metal Detectors Frequently

Constant Movement and Activity
Completely Non-Metallic Footwear (“Security Friendly”)
Thick Leather Boot Design
Composite Toe Ideal
Exposed to Falling Objects

Exposed to Debris and Dust
Thick Leather Boot Design
Metatarsal Protection Ideal
Toe Protection Ideal
Completely Non-Metallic Footwear Optional
Exposed to Precarious Terrain

Stand or Walk on Slick/Wet Surfaces
Thick Leather Boot Design
“Better” or “Best” Slip Resistance Grade
Toe Protection Optional
Completely Non-Metallic Footwear Optional
General Hazards

Professional Dress Code Requirements
Casual Shoe Design
Thick Leather Material Ideal
Slip-Resistant Outsole
Puncture Resistance OptionalTop Protection Optional

Outdoor Work

Exposed ToAppropriate Safety Footwear Qualities
Outdoor, uneven terrain

Wet Conditions

Forestry

Logging
Thick Leather Calf-High Boot Design
Waterproof
Protective Toe Ideal
Slip Resistant Outsole
Woodwork

Chainsaws and other heavy-duty equipment
Thick Leather Calf-High Boot Design
Waterproof
Slip Resistant Outsole
Chainsaw Resistant Upper
Protective Steel Toe 

Conclusion

To conclude, in this guide, we have given you absolutely all of the necessary and pertinent information when it comes to work-safety footwear. If you’re completely new to your field of work, you should come out of this article with a keener understanding of all the hazards that exist, all the jobs that require some form of protection (heavy-duty or otherwise), and somewhere on our chart should be a few conditions you are likely going to be exposed to on a regular basis. 

In many cases, there is a lot of overlap, and you will find that shoes that cater to a specific hazard, like electricity, will have a variety of the ideal qualities and certifications required. This means you certainly can find the perfect shoe for the job, and using our list as a starting point for your hunt, will make it just that much easier and faster. Overall, we hope this guide has been thorough and given you the knowledge you need to succeed, no matter the challenges you are to overcome!