Feet on the ground: Make smarter footwear choices to prevent slips, trips and falls in the workplace
Simon Ash, UK Sales Manager at HAIX, shares how selecting the right safety footwear can help reduce the risk of slips, trips and falls in the workplace
The Health & Safety Executive (HSE) estimates that slips, trips and falls cost Britain £800 million annually, with the direct cost to employers at around £300 million. Falling victim to such accidents can increase the likelihood of workers developing serious injuries or debilitating longer-term health conditions such as Musculoskeletal Disorders (MSDs) - the leading contributor to disability worldwide.
The burden slips, trips and falls put on worker health, organisational finances and the UK’s economy is devastating, yet it is preventable in many instances. Employers can take a proactive approach to prevent this kind of injury by ensuring their workforce wear supportive, high-quality, comfortable footwear as advances in safety footwear design have resulted in smarter, lighter and stronger materials that can combat the risks.
Safety boot sole units are often made from composites like Rubber/Polyurethane mixes that enhance durability and grip, providing stability and reducing chances of slipping even on surfaces covered in oil or petrol. Coupled with advanced ground impact cushioning that reduces strain on joints and muscles, designing safety footwear from ‘the sole up’ will be as integral to future Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) design as it is in today’s products.
HAIX, specialist manufacturer of functional safety footwear, understands that wellbeing starts from the feet up and investing in quality, compliant protective footwear can prevent accidents in the workplace.
Selecting the right footwear
Where floors cannot be kept clean and dry, slip-resistant footwear can help prevent slip accidents. When selecting safety footwear, the wearer should consider the level of slip resistance needed for their specific situation. For example, footwear that performs well in wetter conditions might not be suitable on oily surfaces. This can be determined through a proper risk assessment. Different models provide varying levels of resistance, for example, some models incorporate a special heel cup to offer extra stability.
Manufacturers should design safety footwear with a variety of surfaces in mind. HAIX footwear, for example, can help to maintain a secure grip when faced with steep slopes, wet roads or oil-covered floors in workshops because the outsoles are manufactured in a special abrasion-resistant rubber compound with a bold tread. In addition to selecting footwear with the right features, all footwear should be trialled to ensure it meets the need of the environment and the wearer.
HAIX safety footwear undergoes a series of over one hundred material and quality assurance tests, replicating the day-to-day challenges of its wearers, who spend most of their time on their feet. To ensure footwear is anti-slip, it is tested according to the main safety standard, EN ISO20345:2011, with specific codes for certain conditions:
• SRA – tested on ceramic tile wetted with dilute soap solution
• SRB – tested on smooth steel with glycerol
• SRC – tested under both the above conditions
Waterproof, breathable materials
Water-resistance and breathable, insulating materials are key because wet or hot feet may cause concentration levels to drop as the wearer becomes more concerned about their comfort than the job in hand. Distraction at work can lead to an accident, so providing waterproof, breathable footwear can reduce this risk. Waterproof boots adhere to the EN ISO standard: 20345/20347, the minimum European standard manufacturers should achieve. Boots that incorporate a Gore-Tex membrane with microscopic pores that are 20,000 times smaller than a drop of water exceed this standard and ensure footwear is watertight. To keep feet ventilated when working hard, uppers - the part of the shoe covering the top, sides, back and toes of the foot, should be made from appropriate leather or breathable material.
Anti-fatigue properties and comfort
A recurring complaint from those who wear safety footwear at work is plantar fasciitis, an acute pain in the heel caused by inflammation of the plantar fascia, which is prevalent among people who stand for long periods while at work, such as factory line workers. Damage to the plantar fascia is the leading cause of heel pain in adults and if left untreated, can lead to long-term health effects and pain that can negatively affect work concentration, increasing the likelihood of an accident.
Using advances in design influenced by biomechanics, footwear manufacturers can address such issues. A support system that supports the natural curvature of the foot, for example, can maintain a more natural foot position. This helps to reduce wearer fatigue, especially when boots are worn over long working periods, ensuring better overall bodily posture and acting to minimise long-term injury risk associated with standing at length. HAIX developed its CONNEXIS footwear range to help prevent plantar fascia damage and help reduce fatigue. The footwear features an innovative strap construction, called fascia tape, that runs around the foot and stimulates the fasciae and muscles in the foot sole to keep them elastic. Conventional shoes keep the foot rigid, and as a result, fasciae tend to become tight and inflexible because the tissue is not sufficiently stressed, leading to pain. However, the last of the HAIX CONNEXIS range is not curved downwards like conventional shoes but straight, ensuring that the ball of the foot does not sag, and the toes have more space to support the foot. Designed in collaboration with leading health and footwear technology experts, the shoe’s structure takes into account the foot’s natural shape and its need to move freely. Choosing comfortable, supportive footwear with anti-fatigue properties can not only reduce muscle and ligament stress but also minimise the risk of slips, trips and falls caused by difficulty concentrating or weariness.
Other issues long-term wearers face, such as lower leg fatigue induced by overall boot weight1, can also be countered by smart material choices; advances in materials like nanocarbon can produce toe caps and reinforced areas that meet the same safety and protection standards as steel caps but remain ultra-lightweight. Puncture-resistance in boot midsoles is often accomplished using metal, but advanced fabrics and textiles can be used to provide levels of puncture resistance while decreasing overall weight and increasing comfort and flexibility.
Taking safer steps
Wellbeing starts from the feet up and investing in quality, compliant protective footwear ensures workers are protected and able to perform at their best. The importance of footwear as a core element of protection should never be underestimated, especially as instances of slips and trips remain so high.
As workers look to manage the risk of slips, trips and falls at work, the importance of footwear as a core element of protection should never be underestimated. An investment in reliable, high-quality safety footwear is an investment in wearer health, comfort and safety.
For more information, go to www.haix.co.uk