If you’ve ever suffered a serious foot injury at work, you know just how painful it can be. Unfortunately, foot injuries are a common occurrence in industries such as construction, manufacturing, and warehousing.
According to statistics from the U.S. Bureau of Labor, more than 53,000 work-related foot injuries were reported in 2018, leading to missed workdays, lost productivity, and high medical bills.
In some industries and professions, ensuring your employees’ feet are properly protected with safety boots is an essential part of keeping them safe, as well as adhering to federal regulations.
Work safety standards for footwear are regulated by the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OHSA), a division of the Bureau of Labor. OSHA sets the standard for safety in the workforce, including the type of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) workers must wear. Protective footwear is considered a type of PPE. Failure to properly protect employees can result in stiff fines from OSHA.
In this article, we’ll discuss everything you need to know about work boot safety standards, including who needs to wear protective footwear, the different types, and current OSHA regulations regarding their use.
OSHA’s PPE section details the types of employees and industries that are required to wear safety boots or protective footwear while on the job.
The federal government’s standard, 29 CFR 1910.136(a), is clear: “The employer shall ensure that each affected employee uses protective footwear when working in areas where there is a danger of foot injuries due to falling or rolling objects, or objects piercing the sole, or when the use of protective footwear will protect the affected employee from an electrical hazard, such as a static-discharge or electric-shock hazard, that remains after the employer takes other necessary protective measures.”
According to OHSA, protective boots are required when the following are present:
Protective boots and footwear are common in several industries, including construction, manufacturing, machine operation, landscaping, factories and warehouses, renovations, welding, and laboratories.
ASTM Standards Required for Workplace Protective Footwear
ASTM is a non-profit organization that develops the standards for workforce safety boots and footwear, and those standards are adopted by OSHA. ASTM is an international organization that tests products to help improve their quality and safety.
According to 29 CFR 1910.132, PPE safety footwear is required whenever an employer’s workplace hazard assessment determines:
OSHA requires companies to perform a hazard identification and assessment to determine the conditions of a work or job site. The assessment should include any potential dangers to employees, including their feet. The assessment helps discover if threats are present that could result in trips and falls, burns, punctures, or other injuries.
The following potential hazards should be noted in the assessment:
Choosing the right type of safety work boot depends on the unique hazards of the industry you work in. Here is a list of some of the most common types of safety work boots and what they help protect workers from.
Steel-toe shoes are among the most popular types of safety boots. With steel capping over the top of the shoe, they are ideal for protecting against falling items. They are commonly used in industrial sites, warehouses, and manufacturing facilities where large objects and heavy machinery are located. They are not as ideal for workers in extreme temperatures.
Instead of using metal to protect the feet, composite-toe shoes are made from non-metal materials such as plastic, Kevlar, and fiberglass. They are much lighter than steel-toe shoes, which makes them more comfortable, especially for those who work in hot temperatures. On the downside, composite-toe shoes are typically more expensive and do not provide the level of protection that steel-toe shoes do.
Alloy-toe shoes are typically the most expensive type of safety toe shoes because they are made of light-year materials such as titanium and aluminum. They are thinner, more comfortable, and up to 50% lighter than steel-toe shoes, offering workers impressive maneuverability. The drawbacks of alloy-toe shoes include a higher price tag. They also aren’t as impact resistant as steel and they do conduct electricity.
Electrical Hazard Shoes
Electrical hazard shoes help keep workers in the electrical industry safe. They are non-conductive shoes and can protect against an electrical shock of up to 18,000 volts.
Moisture Protection Shoes
Moisture protection boots offer superior protection for those who work in wet conditions and come in two types: waterproof work shoes and water-resistant shoes.
Just as their name suggests, waterproof shoes use a special coating that causes water to bead up and slide off of the shoes to keep feet completely dry. They are best suited for harsh conditions with frequent water. Water-resistant shoes, meanwhile, will eventually allow some water inside the shoe, making them ideal for mild wet conditions.
The answer to this question depends on the type of safety boots that are being used for the job. For example, employers are not required to pay for non-protective steel-toe boots if the employees are also allowed to wear them at home or to other job sites.
If the safety footwear is not allowed to be used off the job site, then the employer is required to pay for the shoes. This might include specialized footwear used to fight fires or worn in chemical labs.
OSHA Fines for PPE Violations
Failure to comply with OSHA’s PPE regulations can result in fines. The maximum and minimum amounts for civil penalties are listed in the table provided by OSHA below.
Table 1: Maximum and Minimum Amounts for Civil Penalties
Type of Violation
$1,036 per violation
$14,502 per violation
$0 per violation
$14,502 per violation
Willful or Repeated
$10,360* per violation
$145,027 per violation
$0 per violation
$14,502 per violation
Failure to Abate
$14,502 per day unabated beyond the abatement date [generally limited to 30 days maximum]
Keep Employees Safe With Proper Safety Boots and Footwear
Whether you work in an industry where footwear is regulated by OSHA or not, it’s important to ensure all of your workers are wearing proper PPE, including safety boots. This will help cut down on the number of foot injuries and ensure your company is adhering to OSHA regulations.