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Choosing the correct footwear for the wearer and the working environment is important as it’s one of the simplest ways to prevent accidents from occurring. Having carried out a risk assessment to make you aware of the protection you require, you can be sure you’re choosing the most suitable safety footwear.

Where possible, you should first reduce the risks of slips and trips. This could be via laying special flooring and mats or reducing the existing hazards. However, it many instances it isn’t always possible to fully remove the risk, and that’s when safety footwear is necessary.

Slip Resistance

Slips, trips, and falls are an ever-present hazard within most workplaces and safety footwear plays its part in reducing accidents and injuries. When looking at footwear with soles which will specifically increase grip levels or offer slip resistance, it must have passed testing to the European standard EN 13787. 

The following three codes, which will be found in the product information and on the shoe, indicate that the footwear has met a specific requirement:

SRA – tested on wet ceramic tiles lubricated with a soap solution;

SRB – tested on smooth steel lubricated with glycerol;

SRC – tested under both of the above categories.

Safety Footwear Standards

All safety footwear will conform to EN 20345 and means that as a minimum it will feature a toecap to protect from at least 200 joules of energy impact. Identified with the code SB, it will feature a steel or composite toecap.

S1 has the same features, plus anti-static properties, being fully-enclosed, and an energy-absorbing heel unit. 

S2 goes one step further, and the footwear comprises of water resistant leather.

S3 has the addition of midsole penetration protection.

S4 and S5 have the same benefits as S1 and S3 respectively, but for all rubber and polymeric footwear.

There are also additional safety features to watch out for which can be built into the footwear. In shoes without S3 or S5 requirements, having a P denotes that it has the upward penetration protection with a compound or steel midsole. WRU lets you know that the safety footwear also has water penetration and water absorption resistance of the shoe uppers.

E identifies the footwear of having an energy-absorbing heel unit.

M has metatarsal impact protection, and AN for ankle protection.

Together, these little features can prevent the wearer from suffering an easily-avoided serious injury.

When using the suffix HI, you know the shoe or boot insulates from heat at 150°C and prevents the internal temperature from increasing by more than 22°C. Similarly, CI insulates against the cold for up to 30 minutes at -20°C. And with HRO, the outsole is heat-resistant to contact heat of 300°C.

The C means that the footwear has conductive properties which prevent a build-up of static, while A has anti-static properties and gives limited protection against electric shocks from the nominal mains voltage.

Other Footwear Factors to Consider

The selection of footwear has to take into account a number of additional factors, not just their slip resistance or safety features such as toe protection. Comfort, fit, and durability are just as important, as it can make the difference between a worker wearing and not wearing their safety footwear.

Despite the misconception, safety shoes can and should be comfortable.

When picking shoes, measure both feet as they’re not always the same size, and the wearer needs to try on both shoes and take them for a little test walk. There needs to be enough room for natural movement, and you shouldn’t have to break-in new shoes; shoes that fit well should feel comfortable, no matter how much you’re spending.

Workers should also be made aware that their behaviour in the workplace influences slips, trips, and other accidents. When there is a spill, they should deal with it themselves rather than waiting for someone else, and take care when carrying objects, rushing around, or walking when distracted on their phone.

Safety footwear is there to protect people as much as practically possible when things go wrong. However, the best method for avoiding an accident or injury is prevention.