In an industry where many workers are physically active for most, if not all of their day, the correct choice of footwear is essential, especially when faced with conditions such as freezing temperatures and damp environments. Yet many people neglect to take good care of one of their most important tools – their feet.
Here, Jon Marchant, Global Category Manager; Industrial Footwear at Airwair International – Dr. Martens – talks about the company’s recent survey, and how its findings point to a need for change.
Our recent survey among outdoor workers, highlighted some concerning results when it comes to safety footwear worn on site.
The survey found that more than half (51%) of outdoor workers were unhappy with their boots, with 65% stating that they suffer with cold feet during the winter months, as well as many other complaints such as wet feet (40%), odours (25%), blisters (21%) and chilblains (16%). It is no surprise then, to hear that an overwhelming majority (73%) indicated that comfort is the key consideration when buying outdoor working footwear, followed by price and then safety features.
In an industry where potential hazards to workers’ feet are abundant, such as slips, trips and falls, heavy or sharp objects, and prolonged exposure to damp conditions that can cause bacterial infections, it is important for workers to think about what type of footwear they need to use to withstand such situations.
If workers are focused purely on and price, they run the risk of overlooking features that are critical to safe outdoor working. Protective elements such as a safety toecap, water-resistance and a puncture resistant midsole, can all help to keep feet safe and healthy during the working day.
Workers should prioritise choosing footwear that has been specifically designed to protect their feet from dangers while working, and a good start would be to look for boots that are compliant with set industry standards, such as the EN ISO 20345:2011 standard that specifies basic and additional requirements for safety footwear used for general purpose .
The survey also found that the responsibility of purchasing safety footwear for work is currently being taken on by the individual in most cases and not by the employer, with three quarters of those surveyed stating that they purchase their own boots. Shockingly, 58% of outdoor workers purchase their boots from conventional high street stores or online retailers, instead of from specialist workwear manufacturers or trade counters that would be required to meet those tough industrial standards.
These figures highlight a potential cause for concern on sites across the country, especially in the light of the launch of tougher sentencing guidelines last February. Employers that are found to be responsible for incidents that involve injury to employees, could now face fines of more than £10 million for serious health and safety breeches, or even £20 million in corporate manslaughter cases. This highlights a real need to improve industry knowledge of the potential dangers from inadequate personal protective equipment (PPE), and what the best solutions are for the task being carried out.
As the survey results showed, most workers buy their own footwear, perhaps without the knowledge of what the best safety footwear solutions are, and the minimum features to look out for. This is where employers need to improve awareness of what is required on site.
Some employers are able to make contributions towards safety footwear purchases, and this would certainly go a long way to ensuring outdoor workers are purchasing the right boots in the first place. However, where this isn’t possible, improving industry knowledge is a good start to driving up standards across the industry, and will ensure that safety will be at the forefront of everyone’s minds.
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