Friday, January 9, 2009

Sharing Footwear - Urban Myth Or Unhealthy Practice?

Evidence exists that in the energy production industry employees and visitors alike are expected to step into old boots.

This is the sole verification of what I had suspected was happening. Previously I had only anecdotal accounts of the practice. Sort of like an urban myth. Apparently, when accessing a 'safety zone' every entrant is expected to pick through a selection of old safety boots. Usually there is a close enough fit available but if not, loose-fitting boots apparently are not a big concern. Oddly enough, perhaps because time spent in the safety zone is expected to be short and free of hazards, a loose-fitting boot is not considered a risk.

That being the case, I fail to understand the merits of such a culture. If the risks are minimal, why insist on a full safety boot? To make matters worse, the boots are loaded with features not required at all in the circumstances. Protection from electrical shock for example is only likely to be of benefit to those in close contact with live wires. It seems to me this is expensive over-kill for the occasional visit to a safety zone.

Furthermore, I wonder where the inventory of old boots comes from? Are they cast-offs from employees who have abandoned them or are they purchased for the purpose of lending out? Regardless, the whole idea is fraught with unpleasant images conjured up by the sharing of used footwear. It seems, in this one organisation anyway, there is no discomfort when visitors are invited to pick their temporary old boot. I suspect that the shock of being refused admission is greater than the uninviting prospect of stepping into somebody's old shoes.

There are a number of hygiene and podiatry issues associated with this policy.

The law requires that risk of injury be considered when implementing any safety program. Depending on the degree of risk it may be prudent to provide adequate PPE and to insist that any recommendation of protective equipment be mandatory. It's the safest way out given our litigious society. However, just how civilised or enlightened is it to ask workers and visitors to share footwear? The thought of it brings the risk of foot diseases, warts and verrucae to my mind. From an employee perspective such a policy could easily be considered unreasonable. The issue of sanitization is enough to put me off the whole idea.

According to Robert Shaw, M.Sc D.Pod M MCh.S, podiatrist to Diageo’s Kilmarnock whisky bottling and distribution plants in
Scotland, there are some important considerations to be concerned about sharing footwear, industrial or otherwise. He agrees hygiene wise the main concern would be cross infection of pathogens. However, there may be other serious consequences. Since old boots have been pre-formed by a previous user, pressure points can arise. These pressure points are most likely to occur behind toe caps. Crease marks or flexion marks differ from person to person and can lead to friction on the upper of the foot. The much respected West of Scotland chiropodist advises those suffering from diabetes, or other systematic disorders, to be very careful. Poorly fitting boots can lead to ulceration and diabetics are prone to foot infections in general. Comfort and fit are of vital importance to a diabetic.

In this particular instance the employer is obviously rich. Not every employer can afford to provide employees with fully-loaded safety boots at no cost to them. To the employer's credit, these 'Cadillacs' of safety footwear are provided with a lot of personal choice. Fit is not usually a problem. The only company requirement is that the full range of safety features are embodied in the footwear. Unfortunately, admirable as that appears, this unusually rich cost finds its way into the cost of the product supplied to the consumer and the boot cast-offs end up as enforceable safety PPE. In this case, it would be the cost of electricity. This means that the extravagant cost finds its way into the price of all manufactures since electricity is a component cost of all goods sold. Makes you wonder if an 'old safety boots' policy is a good idea after all?

I think its time for employers to re-evaluate safety policies that insist on full safety boots where the risk assessment indicates only toe protection is necessary. Such a practice would be less wasteful economically and I happen to think it would be a whole lot more hospitable and healthy.

The 'Slipp-R' safety overshoe is made of sturdy rubber material with a steel toe cap providing similar or greater toe protection than the minimum required by international safety standards bodies. A 'Slipp-R' safety overshoe stretches tightly over outer shoes. It is easy to pull on and is transferable between users with no hygiene or health risks. 'Slipp-R' safety overshoes cost a lot less than a safety boot. It is PVC-Free, the protective toe cap is covered and coloured discs on the inside sole indicate the seven sizes. The 'Slipp-R' is acid, oil and animal fat resistant with anti-slip qualities.

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