By Mitchell, Andrew
Occupational Hazards , Vol. 64, No. 6
The U.S. industrial market for safety shoes and boots, rubber or plastic boots, and foot and leg guards is estimated at nearly $1 billion. Approximately $70 is spent per employee on foot protection per year. To be sure, industry is doing a lot - and spending a lot - to help prevent foot injuries, to say nothing of slips and falls.
On the flip side, according to the National Safety Council, in 1997 there were 180,000 foot-related workplace injuries. That's 400 cases a day at an estimated $6,000 per incident. A Bureau of Labor Statistics study of foot injuries found 75 percent of the accidents occurred when workers were not in compliance.
A more programmed approach to making foot protection purchases - one that focuses as much on comfort, durability and anti-slip protection as it does on bottom-line pricing - might reduce industry's investment in foot protection while reducing worker injuries. The following checklist outlines steps required to make an informed purchase, including rules, choices, motivation factors and industry trends in foot protection.
1. Understand the rules.
The purpose of a programmed approach to foot protection is to bring your workplace up to specs, to keep your employees safe, to lower your cost of compliance and to provide a convenient way for business owners to stay legal. The emphasis should be "compliance and beyond."
To begin, understand the "big three" federal safety regulations for foot protection:
1. OSHA 1910.132 (d) - hazard assessment within your plant environment;
2. OSHA 1910. 136 - occupational foot protection, general requirements; and
3. OSHA 1910.132 (f) a, iv, v-employee training and fitting for protective footwear compliance.
There are other, more specific regulations (see box on page 68), but these outline the premise of the programmed approach to safety: learn, comply and teach.
To stay current with complicated OSHA guidelines and their many regulations is understandably difficult. When you set out to evaluate your foot protection program, employ the expertise of companies and representatives whose primary business is supplying OSHA-approved safety footwear.
2. Understand the scope.
There are two major categories of work-related foot injuries. The first includes foot injuries from punctures, crushing, sprains and lacerations. The second includes those resulting from slips, trips and falls. Taken together, the two categories represent nearly 25 percent of all disabling injuries.
In addition, there is a whole range of foot problems associated with workplace conditions, including calluses, ingrown toenails and tired feet. Although not occupational injuries in the strictest sense, their associated discomfort, pain and fatigue have a direct impact on productivity and can lead to further injuries.
3. Choose an auditor.
A complete facility analysis is the perfect way to launch a comprehensive protective footwear program. The audit works best when a trained third-party professional -- either a footwear manufacturer representative or dedicated safety distributor, or both -- is invited to walk through the plant and observe foot protection use, or lack thereof, in every area of the facility.
The third-party approach is ideal because you draw on the expertise of qualified foot protection specialists. The approach also removes bias and encourages dialogue from employees. Safety distributors offer the experience gained from years of solving problems like those in your facility. In addition, the safety distributor will carry multiple lines of footwear, turning "a complete line" into "many complete lines."
A good place to start a safety audit is a thorough examination of the plant's injury rate. By working together to analyze these records, plant safety professionals and auditors can develop objectives for the rest of the survey. …