Common problems with safety footwear… and how to avoid them
Posted 31 May 2022
From splitting soles and losing comfort over time, to linings that make your employees’ feet sweat and smell, when footwear goes wrong, you know about it.
You also face the hassle of replacing that footwear – whether like-for-like or with an alternative – but how can you be sure the same thing isn’t going to happen again if you don’t know why it happened in the first place?
Mark Fishwick, Director at iSB Group, explains what to look for…
Common problems with safety footwear
We are often contacted by employers struggling with recurring issues with the safety footwear they provide to their employees. Complaints include:
Too hot / sweaty
Stitching coming apart
Losing comfort over time
Upper breaking down.
All of these problems can be avoided by investing in good quality safety footwear that meets the demands of the wearer’s job role. But, how do you know good quality from bad?
It comes down to the materials used and the quality of the manufacturer’s processes, and there are some tell-tale signs that can help you identify potential problems before you buy.
Spotting potential issues
The soles of good quality safety shoes are manufactured using high-pressure injection moulding, resulting in a robust sole unit with clean lines and few to no air bubbles. Look out for dual-density soles which are normally made with two layers of PU – a hard-wearing outer layer providing grip and durability, and a softer layer offering cushioning and rebound for the wearer’s foot. Examine the tread pattern on the bottom of the shoe. Look for patterns that span the crease of the shoe under flex, as this adds strength. Large areas of indentation running along the crease are more likely to split open over time on a lower quality sole.
Our tip: Avoid footwear where the grip layer is glued on to the comfort layer. This glue will wear down over time, causing the tread to come unstuck. Instead choose footwear where the sole has been injected onto the upper, forming a stronger bond. Also, look out for air bubbles in the tread, which are indicators of a less dense material and a poor manufacturing process.
In the same way that sports clothing is designed to wick away sweat, good quality footwear should keep your feet at a comfortable temperature by wicking away moisture through the lining and insole, minimising odour. Look out for footwear with 3D-mesh, which allows for air to flow around the foot as you walk and a wicking insole to speed up the process.
Our tip: Pour a small amount of water on the insole of the shoe. The water should soak in and be wicked away by the fabric. If it bubbles on top, the insole will not absorb any sweat, and your employees will be headed for cheesy feet!
Stitching coming apart
Repeated creasing in certain areas when crouching down or stretching up, as well as exposure to certain chemicals and materials in use can cause the stitching in a shoe’s upper to break down. Choose footwear with double lines of consistently sized and spaced stitches, and a uniform distance between the lines across the entire shoe. Consistency indicates a well-manufactured product, and the double stitching will better withstand wear and tear during use.
Our tip: Check for single line, inconsistent and cross-stitching, these are all indicators of a poor manufacturing process. Flex the shoe. If there are lines of stitching sitting in or close to the crease, these should be considered potential weak points.
Losing comfort over time
For warehouse workers, choose footwear with a dual-density sole. This is made from a hardwearing material topped with a softer, more comfortable material. It’s easy to be fooled into thinking footwear is comfortable by a thick, soft insole. This will feel instantly comfortable when you put on the shoe, but will soon compact with wear. If the bulk of the shoe’s comfort and rebound is built into the sole unit itself, you won’t have any issues with it lessening over time.
Our tip: Remove the insole from the shoe and see how comfortable it is to wear it without it. This will give you a good idea of the long-term comfort of the shoe. If it feels really hard and uncomfortable without the insole, you may want to look for an alternative.
Upper breaking down
This is a common problem with uppers made from cheaper microfibres or so-called ‘action leather’. Action leather is where only the middle section of leather is used and coated in PU which is not as high quality as full grain leather.
Our tip: Choose footwear with uppers made from full grain leather or quality, branded microfibre for better peace of mind. If you’re looking for a microfibre upper, don’t be afraid to ask your supplier for evidence of its quality.
How to avoid the most common problems
All the above issues and more can be avoided by investing appropriately at the outset in good quality safety footwear. Choose to partner with a trustworthy supplier who will only offer you high quality, durable products that keep your workforce safe and comfortable. Avoid buying cheap online, and don’t allow your employees to purchase their own footwear without oversight. This doesn’t mean you can’t empower them to make choices about what they wear at work –the best suppliers will have systems in place to allow you to do both, keeping your people happy and giving you peace of mind that they are always wearing the safest, most comfortable shoes and workwear.
Remember: Just because footwear is labelled a ‘safety’ shoe, looks good and is cheap, that doesn’t mean it conforms to EU safety standards. If an accident happens, you as the employer would still be liable for allowing your employees to wear footwear that didn’t meet safety standards.