For workers in the manufacturing, agricultural and construction industries, the risk of foot injuries is an everyday hazard. Hot substances, falling objects, corrosive materials, hydraulic equipment, cutting and crushing machinery, and electrical hazards can all cause serious injuries if workers are not properly protected. As a way to mitigate these risks, it's vital to choose the correct footwear to match the hazard. That's where safety standards such as ANSI Z41 come in.
ANSI Z41-1991 is an old standard for the quality of protective footwear. It was retired on March 1, 2005, and replaced by two new safety standards, ASTM F2412 and ASTM F2413.
Why Have Protective Footwear Standards?
Statistics tell an important story when it comes to the health and safety of U.S. workers. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, almost 5 percent of all nonfatal workplace accidents that result in time away from work are foot-related. Each injury results in 10 median days away from work. This costs the economy a ton of money and causes personal distress to employees who are dealing with serious, and sometimes life-changing, injuries to their feet.
The best way to protect employees is to eliminate the hazards that cause injuries in the first place, but this is unrealistic. It would be impossible to stop construction workers from using hydraulic machines, for example, because foundations and utility trenches would never be dug. Most of the machinery that has the potential to cause harm is designed to make work faster and more efficient. So, we turn to the next best option: Where the work environment itself does not provide sufficient protection, protective footwear must be used.
What Is Personal Protective Equipment?
The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration is responsible for protecting the health and safety of people at work. It is administered through the U. S. Department of Labor, which regulates and enforces a suite of laws that cover workplace activities and safety standards.
One such standard is Standard 1910.136. This rule specifies that Personal Protective Equipment must be used whenever it is necessary due to risks present in the work environment. PPE includes such items as face masks, eye goggles, hard hats, gloves, protective clothing, respiratory devices and, of course, protective footwear.
Basically, if there's a chemical, radiological or machine hazard in the workplace, and the hazard is capable of causing injury, then workers should be wearing PPE. OSHA Standard 1910.136 deals specifically with protective footwear. By this standard, workers must wear safety shoes when working in areas where there is a danger of foot injuries.
ANSI Z41: Standard for Foot Protection
Employers cannot provide just any old footwear to at-risk employees – the footwear has to meet specific safety standards. Under OSHA Standard 1910.136, protective footwear must be constructed to one or more of three national quality standards:
- ASTM F2412-05: The standard test methods for foot protection issued by the American Society for Testing and Materials.
- ASTM F2413-05: The standard specification for performance requirements for protective footwear.
- ANSI Z41-1991 and Z41-1999: The American National Standards Institute's standards for the quality of protective footwear.
Unfortunately, the ANSI standards are now out of date. Manufacturers retired the ANSI Z41 quality standard in March 2005 and replaced it with ASTM F2412 and F2413. So, while it's perfectly legal to use ANSI safety shoes your employees may already have, it's better practice to issue footwear that has been constructed to the latest ASTM standards.
ASTM F2412 Safety Standard Explained
ASTM F2412 and F2413 work together, hand-in-hand, with the intent that a footwear item will not pass quality standard ASTM F2413 unless it has first passed quality standard ASTM F2412. Both standards were last updated in 2018. You can look them up online, but sadly, they are not written in an especially user-friendly way and contain a bunch of technical jargon that's hard to understand.
Here's the main thrust: ASTM F2412 contains a long list of tests that manufacturers must put their protective footwear through before bringing their product to market. These tests include, but are not limited to:
- Impact resistance in the toe area.
- Compression resistance in the toe area.
- Metatarsal protection.
- Conductive properties to reduce hazards posed by static electricity buildup and ignition in the presence of chemicals.
- Electric shock resistance if the wearer accidentally steps on live wires.
- Puncture resistance.
ASTM F2413 Safety Standard Explained
ASTM F2413 specifies the minimum performance requirements that protective footwear must meet in order to be considered suitable for use in the workplace. These requirements broadly fall into these areas:
Impact. Safety footwear rated I/50 protects toes from an impact of 50 pounds. Footwear rated I/75 protects toes against an impact of 75 pounds. Manufacturers perform this test by dropping a 50- or 75-pound weight onto the boot, from a designated height and speed.
Compression: The footwear can withstand compressive loads of 1,750 pounds for C/50 rated footwear or 2,500 pounds for C/75 rated footwear.
Metatarsal: Certified metatarsal protective footwear meets the highest impact and compression class 75 requirements, plus some additional tests that involve dropping weights onto the metatarsal guard.
Toe caps: Toe caps must be made of noncorrosive steel or composite material to meet or exceed ASTM F2413. These materials do not conduct heat or electricity.
Electricity resistance: This footwear is capable of withstanding shocks up to 18,000 volts under certain conditions.
Static dissipation: The footwear protects the wearer from the type of electrical spark you get when you're assembling electrical items or using equipment that's prone to generating static electricity. The footwear must meet a lower limit of electrical resistance of one megaohm and an upper limit of 100 megaohms.
Puncture resistance: With a puncture-resistant plate between the insole and outsole, this footwear is designed to withstand puncture force of 270 through the sole or heel.
Requirements for Compliance Markings
A single item of safety footwear does not have to meet all of the ASTM F2413 performance standards, and the shoe should bear a mark showing the specific portion of the standard with which it complies. For example, a safety boot could carry an I/75 rating. The mark must appear legibly by stitch, stamp or pressure sensitive label on at least one shoe in the pair.
In addition, each protective toe cap, metatarsal and puncture resistant insert must carry the manufacturer's name, trademark or logo. This helps OSHA track the provenance of the shoe if it does not perform to the expected standard.
Why Issue ASTM-Compliant Footwear?
For employers, issuing ASTM-compliant footwear ensures that the shoes have undergone testing and meet minimum safety standards in terms of design and performance. The shoes are functional, they fit and they are designed to protect against the hazards that could result in serious injuries at work.
Just as important, if a worker is injured despite wearing the protective footwear, then proving that the footwear was fully ASTM compliant can help an employer defend against a personal injury claim. The onus is on employers to provide personal protective equipment that is fit for the purpose. Supplying inadequate footwear, or just not checking labels, could leave the employer open to a compensation claim if something goes wrong.