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.
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.
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.
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.
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.