Saturday, December 1, 2007


Economising on safety costs is something few would argue with either. So, here's a safety alternative you should know about.
Rubber safety overshoes - ' shoes with toes' - are getting more attention, for more reasons than simply cost-effectiveness. And not just because of the ever increasing numbers of temporary workers employed in this country. It's the ever increasing cost of providing fully-loaded temporary safety shoes that's bringing the whole matter of toe protection to the attention of senior management. The recent challenge by the United States Postal Service and OSHA's ruling attests to that. Anywhere a safety shoe alternative exists, that sits all right with OSHA in the USA or CCOHS in Canada, it's a win-win situation.

There’s not a thing wrong with generally accepted safety toe footwear, but all too often it seems the expensive choice is selected out of fear or a lack of understanding. Although it's true to say safety shoe policies in manufacturing have embraced rubber pull on safety toe cap products for visitors they have been 'missing in action' elsewhere. I know of one particular food processing plant that refuses to use a '”better than those yellow clacker things” solution, but tolerates gunk that might be introduced to the production floor on the soles of visitors' shoes. Their thinking is they had better address the greasy floors than more effectively provide toe protection. Some might argue the greasy floor is a hazard that should not be tolerated.

All workplaces are subject to statutory requirements and minimum standards that reflect our desire to protect workers. It is up to the employer to implement safety rules and regulations but bodies such as OSHA allows significant latitude in doing so, provided choices are reasonable and done responsibly. Careful attention is required as errors in judgement, as with willful neglect, will be punished under the law. Unfortunately, the tendency in a fear and compliance atmosphere is to avoid failure rather than attempt success. Compliance is commendable but can instill fear. That can stifle creativity which can result in unnecessarily high costs.

Take the whole matter of safety footwear. Company safety policies that lack creativity can result in over-spending far in excess of the typical fine for a safety transgression. It's a bit like this; we know there's always the possibility of rain but do we need to wear a raincoat every day? Or, would a small umbrella, costing a lot less than a raincoat, do the job just as well? Throw in the ability to offer others shelter if the need arises and you get the idea.

An employer is required to provide personal protective equipment where the risk assessment indicates as much. Risk assessment is the cornerstone of industrial safety and statutory bodies require employers to undertake one to determine what hazards can reasonably be expected in any particular working environment. There is always the chance of accident but risk assessments are not expected to be clairvoyant. They are expected to review routine operations and recommend the proper Personal Protective Equipment. (The employer is also expected to pay for it.) Risk assessments are expected to be 'reasonable' and the onus is on OSHA to prove otherwise.

There are two important things to remember. Firstly, it is the employer who decides how best to comply with the law. Secondly, organizations like OSHA do not mandate any particular piece of equipment to be used.

In the case of foot safety, OSHA’s occupational foot protection standard is 29 CFR 1910.136. This requires the use of protective footwear when employees are working in areas where there is a danger of foot injuries due to falling or rolling objects. Once that hazard has been determined, OSHA does not recommend, or approve of, any particular safety footwear. According to OSHA in a recent letter to the United States Postal Service, an employer may comply with the criteria set forth in ANSI Z41-1991, replaced by the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) F2412-05 and ASTM F2413-05, or the employer may opt to demonstrate that other criteria are equally effective. If the employer pursues the second option, then compliance with the consensus standards is not mandatory. This means, the burden lies on the employer to demonstrate that the footwear provided is equally as protective as the footwear that meet the ASTM F2412-05 and the ASTM F2413-05 standards.

In another fairly recent ruling, OSHA declined to comment on the suitability of the now ubiquitous ‘Croc’ clogs. It said, in situations where no hazard exists, the matter of appropriate footwear at work is between the employer and employee. This principle was reiterated when OSHA was asked to comment on rubber over-shoes. OSHA was firm in stating that it does not find rubber overshoes acceptable where they provide no toe protection. However, provided they can demonstrate that they meet minimum standards they are acceptable.

What then would be “acceptable foot protection” where there is a chance of toe injury? The first choice of many employers is ASTM or CSA tagged safety shoes or boots - the so called "approved" footwear we hear so much about in advertising. For sure, a fully loaded safety shoe or boot will provide more than enough legal defence in the event of a challenge from OSHA. What is also true is that such a policy comes at a very high cost. Not every employee requires safety toecap, steel-soled, electricity dissipative footwear. For many work situations only toe protection from falling or rolling heavy objects is required. Is it wise then to incur the full cost of a safety shoe or boot?

For example, an office worker visiting a loading dock to pick up documents will not perform any manufacturing duties while en route. This might imply that the PPE provided to the workers may not be necessary for the office worker. However, since the office worker might be exposed to falling objects, or in close proximity to heavy moving equipment, it would be reasonable to foresee only the need for toe protection against impact and compression.

In another situation a risk assessment for the production area might indicate the need for slip resistant footwear and toe protection. However, it is also reasonable to expect that a visiting office worker might not encounter slippery conditions. Furthermore, such conditions are not supposed to persist and it might be reasonable to expect the office worker to take reasonable evasive action to avoid the risk should it occur.

The danger from sharp objects underfoot requires steel sole protective footwear but where no such risk is anticipated toe protection may be all that is required. A good example would be the paper-making and the newspaper print production industry, where there is little chance of sharp objects but always a chance of rolling stock or heavy moving equipment that can injure toes. Having steel sole shoes or boots that can dissipate electrical shock is just over-kill and costly.

Rubber safetytoe overshoes provide the same protection from impact and compression as safety shoes and boots. The steel toecap meets the same ASTM standards and can easily be verified by test results from the major testing bodies. This is what makes OSHA happy. Rubber has been used for a long time in the safety footwear industry and its slip resistance qualities are well known. The rubber material is flexible but sturdy, in some cases as thick as 6mm resulting in a firm fit and some long wearing characteristics. Rubber safetytoe overshoes are a lot less expensive than safety shoes or boots and they eliminate the hazard of passing along unsanitary footwear. They are especially useful where only occasional toe protection is required, such as with visitors to production facilities, temporary workers and for medical reasons.

Safety personnel looking for budget savings, as in today’s economy, would be well advised to consider them for these reasons and more.

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