Each workplace has very specific and obvious boot and shoe needs, but most have multiple environments in which their workers operate. It can be difficult to determine what features each boot or shoe has and which type of safety shoes are best suited for each environment or job duty.
Safety footwear today comes in a variety of styles or categories with numerous features offering varying levels of protection. The shoe you need will be based on where you work, what you do and the kind of comfort or style you prefer. We’ve broken down the different features offered for safety footwear to help you get a better idea of what you need.
Safety Footwear Features
Electrical Hazard – Protects the wearer from open electrical circuits of 600 volts or less under dry conditions. Perfect for maintenance, welding and engineering positions.
Static Dissipative – Commonly worn during the manufacturing of computer components, solvents-based paints, explosives and plastics, static dissipative footwear is designed to reduce the excess static electricity build up on your body. Shoes are rated based on the amount of electrical resistance it provides: SD 100, SD 35 and SD 10. For example, SD 100 has an upper limit of electrical resistance of 100 megohms.
Conductive – Protects against the hazards of static electricity build-up. Ideal for hazardous work environments that deal with explosives, flammable liquids and flammable gases. These shoes should not be worn in areas where there are open circuits or highly charged equipment as they offer no protection.
Waterproof – Waterproof footwear has been treated to prevent the penetration of water, ultimately keeping your feet warm and dry. This can be accomplished by waterproofing the fabric itself and/or having a waterproof membrane or bootie built into the footwear.
Slip Resistant – All safety shoes are inherently slip resistant. Some outsoles use compounds that reduce the risk of slips and falls in wet, oily and/or greasy work environments such as restaurants, hospitals and food processing facilities. Generally, the more surface area the outsole has, the higher the slip resistance.
Insulated – Footwear that uses some type of insulating material to keep the feet warm and dry. It is usually measured in grams with more grams equaling more insulation. Can range from 200 to 1200 grams of insulation. The two most common insulating materials are Thinsulate ™ and foam.
Puncture Resistant – A flexible steel mid-sole underneath the foot reduces the hazards of puncture wounds caused by sharp objects penetrating the sole. Shoes can be puncture resistant and ASTM certified while all CSA footwear has puncture resistance as an attribute.
Postal Certified – Manufactured according to USPS 89 and meet sole slip resistance, domestic source end product, water resistance requirements.
CSA Certified – The CSA registered mark shows that a product has been independently tested and certified to meet recognized standards for safety or performance in Canada. All CSA safety footwear sold in the US should also be ASTM certified.
Multiple Widths – Find just the right fit for your foot by choosing a safety shoe or boot that offers multiple widths. Some shoes are offered in widths ranging from B (narrow) to 4E (extra, extra wide).
Plain Toe – Plain toes are sturdy and designed to protect against rolling ankles and abrasion.
Metatarsal Guard – Protects both the toes and the metatarsal bones behind the toes. Commonly used in foundries, welding and other heavy manufacturing. Rated to protect metatarsal area of foot with an impact resistance of 75 ft-lbf with a clearance of at least one inch.
Steel Toe – Absorbs up to 75 ft-lbf of impact and up to 2,500 lbs of compression. Required by OSHA in areas where employees are exposed to injury due to falling or rolling objects.
Alloy Toe – Made from lightweight materials such as titanium, aluminum or a combination of other materials. They have recently gained in popularity due to their lighter, more comfortable design.
Composite Toe – Non-metallic safety toe caps perform like steel toe safety shoes but weigh roughly 30% less. The perfect safety footwear for areas that do not allow any metal on your body. For example, worksites that require employees to go through a metal detector before entering.
Each safety shoe or boot you purchase is required to have a label outlining the features, materials and testing standards used for that specific footwear. We’ve made understanding that label easy too. Click here to learn more.
So now that you know the variety of safety features available, it’s time to choose the category or style of safety footwear that works best for your work environment and job duties.
Safety Footwear Categories and Styles
Athletics – Light weight and comfortable, this category of shoe is very slip-resistant and best worn while working on flat indoor surfaces like in a warehouse or manufacturing environment. Athletics offer little ankle support and are not normally waterproof, but they breathe well and keep your feet cool. This type of shoe can come with steel, alloy or composite toe for protection.
Oxfords – A traditional style typically made of leather; oxfords offer a dressier option to safety footwear. Oxfords are slip-resistant and can offer more support than an athletic shoe. They are not normally waterproof and are best for flat indoor surfaces. Oxfords are often worn by supervisors who don’t walk as much as someone wearing an athletic shoe.
Hikers – Categorized as a mid, hikers typically have an ankle height of five inches. They are comfortable with some ankle support. Hikers are built similar to athletic shoes only with more cleat on the sole. This shoe is made for those workers who move from indoor to outdoor throughout the day and can be waterproof.
Six-inch Boots – These are the industry standard for industrial work boots. Covering the ankle bone and offering good lateral support, they can be made of all leather or a combination of leather and fabric. It is possible to get insulation up to 600 grams in six-inch boots.
Eight-inch Boots – These boots are similar to the six-inch boots referenced above but have a higher ankle height offering more lateral support and ankle protection. Both six and eight-inch boots are used in major industrial work environments such as pulp and paper mills, railroads and construction.
Nine and 10-inch Boots – Also known as logger boots, nine and 10-inch boots have their origins in the logging industry and are also used by electrical linemen. These boots have a unique heel design perfect for attaching climbing cleats or hooking to utility pole steps. Offering maximum protection, these boots can be heavy and hot.
Slip-ons – Typically a cowboy boot style, slip-ons come in heights from six to 13 inches. Slip-ons are comfortable and easy to step in and out of. Because of historically being easy to slip out of, this style is not currently allowed in some industries such as railroads. However, emerging technology now makes some slip-ons sturdier with a better hold around the foot.
Rubber Boots – These are the boots you need when working in standing water such as sewers, water plants or out in the rain. Rain boots are 100% waterproof and have steel toes. Rubber boots traditionally come only in whole sizes.
Metatarsal Guards – This is a specific attribute that can be assigned to any of the above categories of safety footwear. Met guards cover the top part of the foot and can be either inside or outside of the safety footwear. Met guards are necessary when working in heavy manufacturing environments like battery, steel, glass or window manufacturers.
To help you determine the types of boots and shoes you should offer your employees, we have put together an easy-to-navigate catalog of the best safety footwear for every job, featuring multiple brands and categories of boots and shoes. Download our Boot & Shoe Catalog today!