Why your safety boots might actually be damaging your feet.
Safety boots have customarily been designed like ‘cages’ for the feet. That doesn’t necessarily sound like a bad thing in itself. It gives you a feeling of security. But it may be these very boots that are damaging the feet of millions of workers every single day.
How many of the millions of people who wear safety boots would describe them as comfortable? Is that even a relevant question? Well, yes it is. Very much so.
It wouldn’t be so bad if it wasn’t for the fact that millions of people around the country have to wear such heavy, stiff and inflexible footwear, on hard floors and ground – all day, and perhaps even for every day of their working life.
This almost inevitably will take a significant toll on their feet. If their feet don’t already hurt by the end of the day, that problem may just be waiting for them in later life. However, it’s probably fair to say, that most people are not so lucky, and foot pain may seem to be the rule rather than the exception.
In fact, one of the most pervasive yet often ignored ailments of the health & safety world are symptomised early on by sore feet brought about by being “on your feet all day”. As trivial this may sound, its very possibly the early-stage symptoms of something far more serious.
Feet are actually amazingly engineered constructions. They support your weight, provide stability, balance, and shock absorbency – and have this job all your life. A tough task indeed. For the foot to work properly, numerous bones, tendons and ligaments have to interact, and the 90,000 sweat glands on each foot also help regulate body temperature and purge waste products. It’s no surprise that so many things can go wrong.
PROBLEMS ARE AFOOT...
RSI (Repetitive Strain Injury) is the foremost work environment problem in the western world. More than half of all occupational injuries are directly related to injuries to hands and feet, including musculoskeletal disorders of the feet, such as plantar fasciitis, fallen arches or flat feet. Such conditions are virtually an epidemic, without even considering the vast estimated number of undiagnosed and unreported cases. Over time, these issues also have a knock-on effect upon the knees, hips, spine and even the neck, which are rarely traced back to the original foot misalignments.
Unsupportive footwear are a major contributing factor to Plantar Fasciitis, as they cause over-pronation of the foot, whereby the arches collapse and the feet ‘roll over’ and elongate. This unnatural elongation puts excess strain on the ligaments, muscles and nerves in the foot. Eventually, the bones in the feet unlock, causing the foot to roll inward. This worsens with every footstep, further stretching the plantar fascia and causing inflammation and pain near the heel bone.
Prevention is better than cure. The importance of selecting the most suitable footwear is greater than ever. However, several factors prevent this.
Firstly, the overwhelming choice available these days, it can quickly become so time-consuming that a fully informed choice is all but impossible.
Secondly, there are many misconceptions or out-dated ways of thinking, such as the myth is that the heaviest and sturdiest boots are the safest. However, this could not be further from the truth. Such boots are rarely comfortable, do not flex naturally with the feet and can cause stresses and strains.
The problem is further compounded by the fact that decision makers are seldom among those who actually wear the products that they purchase, and conversely those who wear the products rarely have the power to influence the footwear that they wear each day. Therefore in reality, it’s all too easy for decisions to be based on such issues as convenience, habit, or the advice of biased salesmen, rather than on well informed analysis based on up-to-the minute science.
Some organisations have tried to avoid these difficulties by providing a budget to each staff that can then choose whichever footwear they choose – the rationale being that they are best placed to assess the most suitable items. However, staff is unlikely to be adequately qualified or informed for such technical decisions. Instead, aesthetic or fashion-related considerations can come into play, and should any subsequent injury occur that results in legal action, the Courts are likely to take a dim view of such informal PPE self-regulation.
Perhaps the best answer is a blend of self-regulation, and central oversight. But the difficult decisions still have to be made one way or another.
Comfort is fast becoming the key differentiator today, but only if it does not compromise safety. Some leading brands, particularly those select few with their own permanent in-house R&D laboratories, have recognized that foot safety involves foot health, and not just building ‘cages’ for the feet. The best truly-safe safety boots would seem these days to be the ones that are light, flexible, anatomic, ergonomic, and better shock-absorbing.