by Natalie Parsons
Every year, safety footwear manufacturers find new ways to make protective footwear more comfortable and lighter to combat foot fatigue and improve working conditions.There are a few different generations in the workplace today. We have workers who believe a solid work boot needs to feel heavy to be durable. Younger workers, though, have become used to lightweight athletic shoes and footwear, and they expect the same comfort out of their safety footwear.
The good news is that protective footwear can come in all shapes and sizes and still maintain its durability, as long as it’s built with quality materials and innovative technology.
A boot should be selected for performance, stability and comfort. The following is an overview of traditional and newer technology categories that are important in safety footwear today:
- Quality – Materials and construction offering long-lasting support.
- Technology – Features that can make the difference in serving a function, such as slip resistance, yet are comfortable.
- Platform – The insole, mid-sole and, very importantly, outsole, which can be developed specifically for the application in which the customer is working.
- Comfort – Specific attention is being paid to comfort, with new technology that focuses on reduction of foot fatigue and support for the arch, forefoot and heel.
Shoe and Boot Construction
Shoe and boot construction comes in several forms, among them stitch-down construction, the Goodyear welt and cement-down construction.
- Stitch-down construction – Stitch-down provides a durable platform with a more traditional fit and feel. The boot is secured between the leather insole and midsole, and then the outer leather layer vamp is turned out and stitched to the edge of the sole.
- Goodyear welt – There are a number of ways that an outsole can be attached, one of which is through a Goodyear welt. This construction is different from most others by which the welt and upper are secured to the insole by a strong stitch. The construction increases durability and foot stability.
- Cement-down – For shoes featuring an athletic, lightweight fit, a boot can be attached through a cement-down construction. The boot will have a more cupping fit as opposed to a stitch-down or welt-type attachment.
Materials to reduce wear and tear are important to increase the longevity of the boot.
A reinforced toe makes a boot more resilient. Protective toe options include:
- Steel-toe shoes and boots – Protective footwear is mandatory in designated work conditions. The steel-toe shoe or boot traditionally was used for the ultimate safety toe protection, developed to protect the foot from falling objects or puncture. Since the steel toe was created, workers have been looking for lighter protective footwear measures, including a non-metallic toe and an alloy toe. Steel-toe protection still is one of the most popular and trusted forms of certified footwear safety.
- Non-metallic toe – Workers have started purchasing shoes and boots featuring non-metallic toe protection because it can feel lighter and more comfortable. Additionally, the non-metallic toe is not electrically conductive and the resistance to the transmission of heat or cold can make a big difference on the job site.
- Alloy Toe – Alloy is much lighter than a steel toe and just as strong, if not stronger. Any reduction in the weight of the boot could lead to a reduction in foot fatigue, making the work site safer.
Breathable fabrics, such as the Coolmax lining used for LaCrosse footwear , has changed comfort in footwear today.
For warmer climates where breathable materials are needed in footwear, a lining that wicks away moisture will keep feet more dry and comfortable. Breathable materials can be worn for the whole day and still retain theis comfort factor.
Waterproof Shoes and Boots
Waterproof material is a necessity in wet conditions. Many manufacturers are turning to fabrics featuring new technology, such as Gore-Tex, which is 100 percent waterproof. Such materials keep workers’ feet dry throughout the day.
Hyper-dri is another membrane that provides a 100 percent barrier for waterproof protection to keep feet dry.
The Sole Story
Midsole materials and a boot’s footbed make all the difference when it comes to comfort. Materials like an EVA midsole for additional cushioning; a soft, removable dual-density footbed; and memory foam use the latest technologies to reduce foot fatigue. Comfort can be taken to a greater level by incorporating additional EVA-filled cutout zones in high-wear areas of the heel and foot.
Outsole technology is designed to protect for specific work environments or for general safety. Look for oil-resistant outsoles when working indoors or on slippery conditions. Traction outsoles are best when working in a rugged outdoor environment. Dual-density outsole or additional cushioning is useful when working on concrete for a long period of time.
With new technologies coming to the market every year, the number of choices and applications for safety footwear is growing. Whatever shoes or boots you choose, be sure they meet the appropriate safety standards from ASTM International (originally known as the American Society for Testing and Materials) and the American National Standards Institute, and that the shoes and boots chosen meet or exceed appropriate OSHA standards. If the job site has exposure to an electrical current, then be sure the shoes and boots are non-conductive and meet the standards found in the National Electrical Code.
Natalie Parsons is the product line manager for the work category for both Danner and LaCrosse.