Safety Shoes—Selecting the Right Shoe for Your Workplace

There are multiple factors to consider when selecting the most appropriate foot protection.  The goal is to make sure that your feet are comfortable, supported, and most importantly SAFE!  In a recent post, we demonstrated that a pair of safety shoes is an effective piece of personal protective equipment.  However, the hazards are not only falling objects or fork trucks rolling over toes, but discomfort due to improper fit and selection.  Choosing the appropriate safety shoe could prevent foot related problems like bunions, corns, calluses, hammertoes, and even prevent discomfort to the legs, hips and back. 

Consider these selection tips from The American Orthopaedic Foot and Ankle Society: 

  1. SAFETY. Understand the specific hazards in your work environment. Safety toe caps (steel or composite), metatarsal guards (protection of the top of the foot), puncture-resistant soles, and special construction materials can help protect against falling objects, sharp metal edges, chemicals, electrical hazards or a combination of the above.
  2. Buy what you need. Go to a store that carries footwear specific to your job. Have an associate measure your feet and fit you with an appropriately sized shoe or boot. An experienced fitter should know the characteristics of the footwear and can match the footwear’s design and materials to your special requirements.
  3. Check your soles. Make sure the footwear soles are appropriate to your working conditions. Utilizing different materials based on the exposure, the soles can be designed to resist slips, protect your feet from heat, prevent against puncture, and even electrical shock.
  4. Wick away the moisture. Are you working in elevated temperatures? Buy leather uppers lined with moisture-wicking lining to keep your feet dry. This will help prevent blisters and corns.  If you are working in colder temperatures, purchase a shoe that is insulated with a composite toe (steel toes will draw heat away from your foot).
  5. Stability is important. Wear shoes or boots with flat soles and a wide base. They will provide greater stability when working on uneven surfaces.  This is especially important if you work in construction, landscaping, or in a manufacturing facility.
  6. Completely cover your feet. Protective footwear must completely cover the foot with puncture-resistant material. High-top lace boots should be laced 1/2” to 1” of the full length of the lace row to keep your heel securely in the boot.
  7. Make sure you can wiggle your toes. The toe box needs to be deep enough so you can move all your toes inside without feeling pressure. TIP: try boots on at the end of the day or shift when your feet are largest. Wear your usual work socks. Usually one foot is larger than the other so buy to fit the larger foot.
  8. Get the proper support. Strong heel counters (material that provides rigidity in the heel) provide stability for your ankle and should fit snugly. A wedge bottom sole or puncture-resistant midsole improves stability for ankle and provides arch support.  Ensuring proper support will also help prevent other discomfort to the legs, hips and back.
  9. Comfort is critical. Footwear should feel comfortable when you first try it on! Don't expect to need a "break-in" period before footwear feels comfortable. 
  10. Try protective footwear out while you’re in the store. Walk on a hard surface and not the carpeted showroom floor. Shock-absorbent removable insoles will provide the best available foot bed. These can be removed to be cleaned, replaced as needed or substituted with a custom prescription insert. 

Be aware that no footwear can provide protection against all injuries.  Controlling hazards by elimination, engineering controls, and administrative controls are the primary methods of injury reduction.  Relying on PPE alone is not acceptable.  However, by making sure that you are selecting the correct shoe for your work environment and personal needs, you will provide yourself the best personal protection for preventing foot related injuries should other controls fail. 

Additional information on safety footwear is available from several online sites including, OSHA, and Grainger.