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The Impact of New Innovation and Materials in Foot Protection

Sept. 8, 2023
Today’s workers don’t want to compromise on comfort or safety when choosing work footwear.

In the pursuit of establishing a safe, secure environment for your company’s workforce, there are two critical elements: high-quality personal protective equipment (PPE) and strong safety partners. As the market introduces new and innovative PPE options, safety professionals face a plethora of choices and questions. To guarantee the utmost comfort and safety for employees, staying informed about the latest materials in the industry is paramount.

The future of PPE is unfolding before our eyes, and program managers have the opportunity to be at the forefront of this revolution. By embracing the industry's cutting edge materials, they can ensure the present and future well-being of their employees.

Lightweight is the Future

Today’s workers don’t want to compromise on comfort or safety when choosing work footwear. Lightweight materials are a key factor in making both realities possible in tandem.

For example, the use of innovative textile materials in footwear can offer workers necessary protection without the weight of a typical heavy leather work boot. Many work brands are offering consumers a lighter, more comfortable option by incorporating durable, high-strength and abrasion-resistant textiles. Further, lightweight outsole materials can provide exceptional traction and protection against environmental hazards without compromising performance. These materials deliver slip and abrasion resistance, ensuring safety in various work environments.

Integrating lightweight materials into current safety footwear is helping to improve employee comfort and reduce fatigue for those who spend long hours on their feet in both indoor and outdoor environments. New styles, such as low-profile products resembling sneakers, not only enhance comfort but also seamlessly adapt to workers’ lifestyles, allowing for uninterrupted transitions from work to leisure activities with family and friends.

Focus on Sustainability

As industries across the board are working to prioritize sustainability, the safety industry is stepping up to do the right thing for both our planet and our workforce. Footwear, in particular, presents an opportunity to incorporate recycled, sustainably sourced and natural materials, all while maintaining the shoe’s construction and functionality.

By utilizing materials such as recycled plastic bottles and recycled rubber, it becomes possible to create safety footwear that is not only environmentally-friendly but is also lightweight, versatile and durable. In addition to recycled materials, the use of natural, renewable resources such as sugarcane provide a lower-impact alternative to traditional footwear materials. There have been many advancements in eco-friendly materials that offer high performance with slip and heat resistance while also protecting workers.

PPE that is made with sustainable and responsibly sourced materials offers a way to align your company with environmental, social and governance (ESG) goals while prioritizing employee safety. You can effectively meet your company’s sustainability objectives without compromising on the protection and well-being of your workforce.

Increasing Safety with New Features

New features are being added every day to safety footwear to improve the employee experience, addressing aspects of safety, including temperature regulation, work boot fit and overall worker comfort.

Temperature regulation is a challenge on any jobsite, especially those that are open to the elements or operate under fluctuating weather conditions, which is common for industries like construction. These changing conditions create employee needs that evolve constantly throughout the year.

Safety footwear manufacturers are incorporating breathable materials into their products to enhance the comfort of workers in warmer climates or hot work environments. One example within footwear for warm-weather environments is cooling textiles that utilize conductive fibers to effectively dissipate heat. These linings not only improve day-to-day comfort but also contribute to overall safety by regulating temperature and preventing discomfort.

In freezing temperatures, insulation becomes crucial. To address this, modern safety footwear styles are incorporating paper-thin aluminum technology, which effectively reflects and retains body heat. This approach provides warmth and comfort without the added bulk and weight of traditional insulation materials.

Other features such as quick-lacing fit systems, which use a dial to lock in a secure fit, ensure consistent comfort and make on-the-job adjustments easier than traditional laces. From a safety perspective, the quick-lacing system also allows for a precision fit throughout the day.

Behind-the-Scenes Innovations 

As our digital world changes rapidly, technology and platforms have evolved in every industry. Safety is no exception.

There are increasing advantages for safety professionals adopting these advancements. By working with companies that offer head-to-toe PPE solutions and omnichannel fulfillment options, safety professionals can reduce administration time, mitigate risks by assuring the right products are selected for the job, and eliminate costly waste and inaccuracies.

When searching for a PPE partner, program managers should focus on the following considerations:

Customization: Online customization features allow you to narrow down the types of footwear that employees can choose from based on what is suitable for their unique work environment. You can even customize this for each worker individually. This can also help to improve safety outcomes by helping to ensure compliant products are used.

Time Savings: Regardless of the products offered, an efficient program should save time for administrators without overcomplicating the process. For instance, if safety professionals can streamline the process of outfitting employees through a digital portal, they can eliminate manual verification and minimize inventory carrying costs.

Convenience: An effective provider should be able to fulfill orders for employees regardless of their location. As more companies seek digital solutions, some are implementing digital vouchers to ensure employees can conveniently redeem them for gear however they like—in stores or online. It’s important to select a partner with strategically located stores, manufacturing facilities and distribution hubs, ensuring that PPE is available to employees whenever and wherever needed without supply chain issues.

Real-Time Insights: Ideally, safety managers should be able to access real-time visibility and control over employee eligibility and safety compliance, including online tracking of employee purchases.

As the industry continues to evolve, the emergence of new innovations in safety footwear, ranging from lighter materials to advanced textiles, empowers safety professionals to take significant strides forward. These advances enable safety professionals and their teams to maintain unwavering focus on their vital work, day in and day out.

Kristin Hamilton is senior director of global product creation at Red Wing Shoe Company

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