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Feet On The Ground

Protective Footwear

Published: April 2015
By Tom O'Connor

Electrocutions are consistently one of the leading causes of workplace fatalities and are a daily hazard for electricians and linemen. As such, various forms of personal protective equipment (PPE) can be worn to prevent direct contact with live wires or energized equipment. This type of PPE ranges from protective gloves to cover-ups to nonconductive sleeves. It also includes protective footwear.


Bad things can happen with the wrong footwear. These are two real-life examples. An electrician wearing cowboy boots loses his footing and slips, and he comes into contact with a live conductor, resulting in his electrocution. In the other example, a lineman wearing tennis shoes is electrocuted when his foot comes into contact with a fallen, energized wire. The incident occurred when the victim was attempting to restore power disrupted by a severe storm. 


Both incidents could have been prevented had the victims been wearing proper protective footwear.


The right type


Choosing appropriate footwear could mean the difference between life and death. Footwear must be comfortable, and it must offer protection from the potential hazards each job presents. In this case, the threat is electrocution and other electricity-related incidents that could occur on the job site. There are three general classifications for protective footwear that guard against electrical hazards: nonconductive footwear, antistatic footwear and conductive footwear. All three have distinct purposes.


Nonconductive footwear is usually classified with an electrical hazard (EH) rating and is insulated to prevent electricity from getting to ground when contacting live circuits or electrical equipment. This type of shoe should have a rubber outsole that helps prevent grounding of any charges during an incident. Rubber outsoles are extremely durable and help minimize slips, trips and falls on the job site.


EH-rated footwear can often be outfitted with steel or composite toes. It's a common myth that footwear with metal toes should not be worn when working around electricity. Metal is only conductive if it allows for a continuous path, such as coming into contact with other metal that leads to ground. Therefore, metal safety-toe caps that are enclosed by nonconductive materials are safe to wear around electricity. 


Antistatic footwear is designed for working in environments sensitive to static electricity. They are usually marked with a static dissipative (ESD/SD) tag. This type of footwear helps to dissipate the accumulation of static electricity from the body while still providing a reasonable level of resistance to electrical hazards.


Conductive footwear is intended to be worn in an environment where the accumulation of static electricity on the body can be hazardous. This type of work may include handling explosives or other volatile materials. Conductive footwear is typically manufactured with materials and cements that offer no electrical resistance.


Conductive footwear is also static-¬dissipating, meaning it reduces the amount of static electricity accumulated from walking or moving around. As a result, wearing this type of footwear reduces the odds of ignition from a static electric spark. However, these shoes offer zero protection from live charges or electrical equipment.


Other factors


In addition to understanding the hazards and identifying the right classification of protective footwear for the job, it is equally important to have a comfortable shoe. When shopping for protective footwear, research the requirements for the work environment and any extra personal needs. Shopping should be done in the afternoon or early evening, as feet tend to swell throughout the day. Try on footwear with a pair of thick, padded socks when feet are at their largest. This will result in maximum comfort.


Consider using performance- and protection-enhancement products for additional comfort. Such products include OrthoLite insoles; lighter, more asymmetrical steel-toes; additional padding; and other features that make footwear as comfortable as possible. 


Once you purchase protective footwear, it is important to take proper care of it. This will ensure longevity and maintenance of the shoe's intended protective properties. Leather footwear can be treated with mink oil or other leather-care products to keep it resistant to water. Finally, footwear should always be kept in a clean, dry place to reduce odors and preserve the shoe.


Take good care of your feet, and they'll take care of you.