Thursday, October 31, 2013

Safety overshoes are not all equal.

When the safetytoe was first conceived – a steel toecap inserted into a rubber galosh – some in the safety world considered it unworthy. However, although referred to as an “ugly duckling”, it had a practical purpose. It was its practicality that allowed it to survive, even in the face of some fierce institutional opposition. The safetytoe was a very cost-effective alternative to full safety footwear where only toe protection was required. The steel toecap was the same as those used in safety boots and shoes. It met and exceeded the minimum toe protection in every world Standard for safety footwear. It had the added advantage of being transferable among wearers with no fear of sanitary or health issues. It was the ideal solution for many situations where only ‘toe protection required’ was the rule.

In those days, the applications for safetytoes were in the shoes-for-visitors market. Nobody ever liked stepping into another person’s shoes, even for safety reasons, and certainly never if the visitors were VIPs. Completely covering-up a visitor’s outer shoes was an added advantage – a boon for the food manufacturing industry. Not governed by the rules and regulations of the workplace, the safetytoe for visitors enjoyed market acceptance, virally, and by word-of-mouth advertising.

The galosh used in the first safetytoes was a legacy product from the consumer market. These galoshes were sold as protection for shoes against the rain, snow and mud. At the time, there may only have been two manufacturers of galoshes left in North America, and their molds were nearing their end-of-life. Unfortunately, the early financially-rewarding success, and the high cost of new molds, conspired to keep the safetytoe as an ugly duckling for some time.

“It is harder to attain success in Europe. There is hardly the same appreciation of progress (that) there is here. Appreciation is an element of success.” Alexander Graham Bell.

At first, the resistance of the Regulators and the Standards Bodies caused hesitation in the minds of employers who were potential buyers. With good reason in our litigious society, employers are conditioned to seek the kind of third party endorsements provided by the institutions. Fortunately, in North America, employers soon realized that safetytoes are acceptable in many jurisdictions (the USA being the largest) if testing can prove that they provide the same toe protection as gained from wearing full safety footwear. Equivalency laws first allowed the safetytoe to dip its toes into the workplace.

The response to this was typical of entrepreneurs who sit back on their laurels rather than advancing the cause. Cheap cast-offs from old galosh manufacturers, substantial profits from the non-workplace sectors and untested limiting beliefs all seemed to make time stand still for a product whose time had come.

“It is the man who carefully advances step by step, with his mind becoming wider and wider … who is bound to succeed in the greatest degree.” Alexander Graham Bell.

Surprisingly, Europe was first to fully recognize the potential of the safetytoe. It was a distributor in Ireland who persevered and obtained the first CE Mark for safety overshoes in the workplace. Without it, rubber Safetytoes would have had difficulty penetrating the shoes-for-visitors market, never mind the workplace market. The CE Mark is essential to doing business in Europe. The same laws of Equivalency that gave hope in North America do not exist there. A Standard had to be created.

In doing so, criteria other than mere minimums for toe protection from Impact and Compression were incorporated. The EC Directive 89/686/EEC Annex 11 considered Slip Resistance, Abrasion Resistance, Flexing Resistance, and Resistance to Fuel. Further testing was also instituted that considered the thickness of sole, tear strength, elasticity and extension at break. The Directive (Standard) considered ergonomics. Tests were done to prove there were no design or production features that rendered the product unsafe and regulators asked if the safetytoe could be used when walking, climbing stairs, crouching or kneeling? The fact that the product afforded adequate toe protection was only a starting point for the Europeans.

Today, while the first entrants to the safetytoe business are still chasing profits by cheapening the galoshes, others have sought to make significant safety improvements. The ‘Slipp-R’ safetytoe is packed with extra safety features not found in any other overshoe. Tests now prove that the ‘Slipp-R’ rubber safety overshoe can provide electric shock protection up to at least 14,000 volts and its rubber material can provide both hot and cold thermal insulation. These attributes previously only existed in full safety footwear.

In these challenging economic times such improvements are set to dispel the ugly duckling image of the early gimmicks and establish the safety overshoe as a cost-effective alternative to full safety footwear where only toe protection is required. The ‘Slipp-R’ is earning its reputation as “the safety overshoe that works”.

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