What to look for in Foot Protection

OSHA says that It’s your job to make sure employees use foot protection when there is a danger of foot injuries. That makes selecting the right protection for the hazard a priority.   

OSHA’s general industry foot protection standard (29 CFR 1910.136) says:

“The employer shall ensure that each affected employee uses protective footwear when working in areas where there is a danger of foot injuries due to falling or rolling objects, or objects piercing the sole, and where such employee’s feet are exposed to electrical hazards.”

OSHA also requires foot protection to be designed to comply with any of the following consensus standards:

  • ASTM F-2412-2005, “Standard Test Methods for Foot Protection,” and ASTM F-2413-2005, “Standard Specification for Performance Requirements for Protective Footwear,” which are incorporated by reference in § 1910.6;
  • ANSI Z41-1999, “American National Standard for Personal Protection — Protective Footwear,” which is incorporated by reference in § 1910.6; or
  • ANSI Z41-1991, “American National Standard for Personal Protection — Protective Footwear,” which is incorporated by reference in § 1910.6.

In addition, safety footwear manufacturers provide tags and labels that inform you of the footwear’s intended purpose. For example, the tag might indicate that the footwear is slip resistant, protects from falling objects, or protects from electrical hazards. It is dangerous to assume that a shoe will also protect against a hazard that is not specifically identified on a tag.

Key Selection Issues

  • Just like everyday footwear, when selecting work shoes it is important that they fit properly and are comfortable, especially if workers are going to spend 8 to 12 hours a day in them. Lightweight footwear, for example, will reduce fatigue.
  • When fitting footwear, employees should make sure boots fit snugly around the heel and ankle when laced up. But they should leave plenty of wiggle room for toes. It’s best for workers to try on work shoes after a work shift when feet are likely to be swollen to their maximum size.
  • Shoes that don’t fit properly could contribute to musculoskeletal disorders such as plantar fasciitis and heel pain from heavy heel impact and chronic stress in the heel area. Ankle, knee, and possible low back pain are also common when there is excessive strain on the weight-bearing skeletal system.
  • All sorts of insoles are available on the market today. But soft, cushion, and gel insoles only provide short-term relief. Because they are soft, these products cannot stabilize the foot and just collapse as the foot and ankle go through their normal range of motion. They do not provide the needed support.
  • Prefabricated over-the-counter orthotics can be purchased for a reasonable price. They support and control the normal collapse of the foot. They can provide the arch support that is needed but might be missing in many types of foot protection.
Review 29 CFR 1910.136 here.