You may spend time thinking about the best welding mask to buy, or what sleeves offer the most protection, but how often do you think about your shoes? Unfortunately, many welders don’t think about their feet when they consider safety, and that’s a big mistake. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, falls, slips and trips accounted for 724 deaths in 2013. That number rose by 10% in 2014, resulting in 793 deaths. In many of these cases, the simple use of proper footwear could have prevented the incident. And yet, falls, slips, and trips are not the only dangers welders face when they don’t wear the appropriate shoes. According to Occupational Health & Safety, an online magazine, 80 percent of all jobsite footwear injuries are caused by falling objects weighing no more than 30 lbs., resulting in bruises, lacerations, and crushed feet. Fortunately, many work-related foot injuries can be easily avoided by wearing the appropriate footwear.
One simple way to ward off foot injuries is to purchase shoes that offer toe protection. A 2011 study from Foot & Ankle International, the journal of the American Orthopedic Foot & Ankle Society, shows that crush injuries to the foot can be effectively prevented by choosing boots with steel-toe caps. Steel-toe protection is a fairly common feature of a proper work boot. Today, most workplace shoes offer a variety of other features designed to defend your feet against injuries.
As with any good piece of equipment, the key to optimizing your footwear is understanding the needs of your job. Do you need to move around a lot, or do you work in a secure area with lots of metal detectors? Do you work outdoors, or in a shop? Are your boots comfortable enough to get you through the day? These considerations can prevent serious mishaps and greatly improve your efficiency on the job.
Let’s say you are on the move a lot, or you do work around several metal detectors. Consider picking boots with composite toes. Typically composed of carbon fiber, plastic or Kevlar, these protective toes are bulkier, but lighter, then steel toes. Although they are not as light as aluminum-toed boots, composite toes don’t transfer cold or heat, making them ideal for extreme temperature environments. And, of course, they’re non-metallic, so they won’t set off metal detectors.
Making sure the sole of the boot is puncture- and slip-resistant and made of non-conductible material is also critical in keeping you safe. In fact, all footwear used for welding should be slip-free and made of non-conductible material, such as leather. However, you should balance your footwear options to match the specific work conditions you’re most often exposed to. For example, if you are concerned about heavy, falling objects or embers and other hot materials, boots with special metatarsal guards that protect the delicate bones of the upper foot and toes are available.
Also take into account how the boot was constructed, and how that will impact performance. There are three major kinds of boot construction methods: Direct Attach Construction, Cement Construction, and Goodyear Welting.
Direct Attach Construction offers flexibility and durability right out of the box. This flexibility comes from the sole being fused to the upper part of the shoe. The single, malleable piece is watertight, which leaves room for extra padding and minimizes leg and foot fatigue.
The most durable construction available is called Goodyear Welting. Building a boot with Goodyear Welting is labor intensive, but the ability to resole boots gives the process a major advantage. The upper shoe and inner sole are stitched together using a leather or fabric strip referred to as a “welt.” The stitching offers the flexibility of cement construction shoes with the durability of direct attach construction. However, before purchasing welted boots, make sure to consider the material the welt is made of, as this can impact the boot’s durability and performance. For example, a leather welt is an excellent choice for environments with uneven, rocky, or unstable terrain because the material helps the grip and rigidity of the sole.
Cement Construction offers a lighter-weight boot that is extremely flexible, making it a great choice for light-duty work, like warehouse operations. In this method, the upper part of the shoe is attached to the sole using a water-based cement compound. As a result, these boots are less durable, but more affordable and suitable for less intense environments. This type of work shoe is the least expensive, the fastest to make, and the most commonly worn.
Finally, though perhaps most obviously, don’t forget to balance the safety of your footwear with its comfort. The more durable the boot, the more important it is that you feel comfortable wearing it for long periods of time. For more information about choosing the right footwear for the workplace, see the full version of this story, “Workplace Safety Starts from the Ground Up” by Mark Reilly, in the December 2014 edition of the Welding Journal, free with your AWS membership.
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