Slips, trips and falls contribute to 31% of non-fatal injuries to employees, according to the Health and Safety Executive. Since these will affect an employee’s long-term health and business productivity, it makes sense for employers to try to reduce the risk of such incidents happening.
The UK’s Health and Safety at Work (HSW) Act and the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations require employers to ensure the safety, health and welfare of their employees and that those affected by their activities are not exposed to risk.
Providing employees with, and advising them on, the right type of protective footwear is key and ensures employers adhere to the Personal Protective Equipment at Work Regulations 1992.
Focus on feet
There are many contributing factors to slips and trips, including wet surfaces from cleaning or spillage, poor lighting and obstructions in walkways (bit.ly/2tsIGuz).
Employers must pre-empt the possible consequences by checking that wet surfaces are signalled or cleaned up, regularly monitoring the maintenance of lighting and ensuring walkways are clear.
However, these incidents can still happen due to human error in busy periods, and footwear with features such as slip resistance provides the last line of defence.
Many workers are required to spend a significant part of the day on their feet, so good foot care and supportive, high-quality, comfortable footwear is important to minimise the risk of injuries, improve overall welfare and aid productivity. Simple measures, such as incorporating shock-absorbing elements into the footwear, can reduce the risk of musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) to workers who are on their feet for long periods.
Ensuring workers understand and appreciate the importance of wearing their PPE can be a challenge. However, if a risk assessment has highlighted that particular personal protective equipment (PPE) isnecessary for the activity, wearing it is not at the employee’s discretion under the HSW Act (bit.ly/2t6ZLZ8).
Despite this, complacency can develop in the workforce. Such an attitude towards safety footwear can result in serious injuries or worse. If workers do not understand why they need to wear PPE or have no say in choosing it, they are more likely to refuse to use it. Wearer acceptance is the biggest hurdle to overcome in devising an effective PPE programme.
Some workers may have a pre-conceived idea about PPE. They may wish to have the final say on what they wear at work or may be resistant to change or to donning protective footwear at all.
This issue tends to arise when a company is changing its protective equipment, particularly for longstanding employees who have been using the same workwear for years. Instead of saying, “You will wear this”, it’s far better to involve employees in the selection process. They will then be more accepting of the items and feel happier about wearing them (bit.ly/2Tp7eOA).
Comfortable boots that look good can be important in gaining worker approval. By listening to the views and requirements of the workforce, employers are more likely to boost morale and productivity. Comfort is key, but safety and health are critical. Effective footwear should encompass both wellbeing and comfort without compromising the wearer’s safety.
Employers should start the process by identifying and risk-assessing the possible hazards in the workplace (bit.ly/1Cc8Qil). They can then decide who might be harmed and how, evaluate the risks and decide on precautions, record the findings, and review the assessment when necessary.
When assessing suitability look for footwear that directly prevents the risks identified – for example, choose boots over shoes if ankle support is required.
Safety codes indicate the level of protection boots offer against particular hazards and can be used to support the assessment. There are various safety codes, such as SB (safety basic) and S3 (mid-sole penetration resistance). A full list can be found at bit.ly/2ULeTXN. The key to finding the right rating for your business will depend on the level of protection needed. Different ratings offer features such as anti-static, puncture resistance, toecap protection and water resistance. Matching the right safety code to the task will help to prevent work-related foot injury.
A risk assessment will allow the employer to evaluate whether safety footwear will have to be mandatory at all times or only for specific, riskier tasks. Safety and health law requires that protective footwear be worn if there is a significant risk of injury. Therefore, it is not uncommon for employers to adopt a policy requiring employees to wear safety footwear at all times (bit.ly/212EtGk).
Well-designed safety footwear should meet the requirements of ISO 20345:2011 while incorporating comfort and breathability (bit.ly/2sZ2l2Y). To ensure the footwear is suitable and meets the safety standards, employers must ensure PPE carries the CE marking and that it holds the required certification. The mark provides a measure of confidence that an independent third party has assessed the product against recognised standards or other specifications.
Key features could include slip resistance, a lightweight non-steel toecap, heel grips and shock absorption. Another one found in modern boots and shoes is adjustable, easy-to-use lacing, which ensures the foot is safely secured.
To protect against MSDs and support the foot, ankle and lower limbs, it is best to choose boots with superior cushioning technology and design to mitigate the harmful effects of impact-related stresses when the foot strikes the ground. Modern materials used in the interior lining of boots will protect against blisters and soft-tissue injury by reducing friction and pressure. It is worth investing in boots that have a climatic control system, which regulates the temperature inside them.
When advising an employee or buying any kind of safety footwear, consider these points:
- Comfort: Do the shoes or boots incorporate the critical safety features and would they be comfortable to wear all day? If you can, order models designed with arch support to stabilise feet and maintain an employee’s correct posture to decrease the harmful effects of impact-related stresses when the foot strikes the ground. Also, look for an easy-lacing system so that the process of putting boots on and taking them off is quick and easy.
- Premium over budget: There is a temptation for businesses to look to save money when buying safety footwear, but this approach can run the risk of safety fines should an injury occur and there’s increased staff absence. Cheaper footwear costs the manufacturer less to make and there will be fewer features found at the higher end, such as comfort, breathability and ankle support. Crucially, they may lack advanced safety features, which put employees at a greater risk of foot injury. The money saved also needs to be set against the disadvantages of the product’s shorter lifespan.
- Protection: Choose footwear that is right for the job and incorporates the correct features such as slip resistance, protective toecaps, waterproofing and breathability. For more guidance, consult an experienced manufacturer.
Slips, trips and falls and MSD injuries are significant issues in the workplace and can have an impact on morale and productivity. When selecting safety footwear, it is important to carry out a proper risk assessment and consult an expert for advice and guidance.