HSE Explain The Importance Of Safety Footwear

Role of slip-resistant footwear

Selection and use of the most appropriate footwear for the work environment can have a dramatic effect on reducing accidents. If there is still a residual slip risk after slip controls have been put in place, footwear with slip-resistant properties has an important part to play in further reducing the risk. There are several Slips and trips case studies which show how slip-resistant footwear has helped to reduce accidents in different environments.

Manufacturers and suppliers have a key role in ensuring that suitable products are available and that companies have the information to enable them to make the right choice.

Industrial footwear standards

It is essential that procurers of footwear can be sure that the chosen type will live up to the product description. Furthermore, manufacturers and suppliers have a legal duty to provide accurate descriptions of their products. The safety features of footwear are tested according to a set of European test standards written into EN ISO 20344:2004. The performance specifications are given in an associated set of standards, namely:

  • EN ISO20345:2004 for safety footwear
  • EN ISO20346:2004 for protective footwear
  • EN ISO20347:2004 for occupational footwear

Footwear products once tested and certified are stamped with the CE mark. The manufacturer also provides user information indicating the applications for which the footwear is, or is not, suitable.

At present, slip resistance is not included in the EN standards 20344/5/6 or 7. However, as indicated in the PPE Directive, slip resistance is considered a ‘basic requirement’ of all PPE footwear. As such, slip resistance performance should be tested using European standard BS EN ISO 13287:2004 - Personal protective equipment – Footwear – Test method for slip resistance.

If industrial footwear is CE marked and claimed to be slip-resistant it must have been tested and the coefficient of friction (CoF) test values must be available. CoF data is not normally given in catalogues, but it must be included in the user instructions and it can be requested from the supplier. It may also be appropriate to request additional test data from the supplier – for instance CoF values on test surfaces specific to the end use. Some footwear which claims general slip resistance may not perform well in particular demanding conditions - no one type of footwear will be ideal in all situations.

Help for purchasers of footwear

Choosing the most suitable slip-resistant footwear for a particular environment/ work activity can be problematic. Descriptions of slip resistance given in brochures include terminology ranging from ‘improving the grip performance’ to ‘excellent multi-directional slip-resistance’. Often, the brochures do not describe the work environments for which the footwear are, or are not, suitable. Suppliers have an important role in advising companies wishing to purchase slip-resistant footwear, especially if they are considering switching from a type of footwear they are familiar with to something new.

Footwear selection has to take account of a number of factors, such as comfort, durability and any additional safety features required, such as steel mid-sole. The final choice may have to be a compromise. Therefore it is advisable not to select footwear on the basis of brochure descriptions or laboratory test results alone. Suppliers can assist purchasers in making the right choice by facilitating field trials of footwear.