There are numerous things you need to consider when buying new safety footwear. While style and colour are important (we still want to look good when we’re at work after all!), these variables take a backseat to the overall fit and protection standards when choosing safety boots and shoes.
This guide explains all of the footwear safety codes and classifications that you need to know before making a purchase. All of those confusing abbreviations that nobody really understands are set out in plain English.
We’ve also offered some expert practical tips to make it easier for you to find a protective boot or shoe that perfectly suits your needs.
PPE Regulations – What You Need to Know
Whether it’s safety boots or eyewear, the need for protective gear is generally determined in conjunction with the Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) at Work Regulations 1992. This legislation was updated in 2002 and is set to be amended once again.
If you want to know more about your employer’s responsibility to keep you safe at work – including the provision of PPE boots and other equipment – then the Health and Safety Executive website should be your first port of call.
What Does EN ISO 20345:2011 Mean? Safety Footwear Laws Explained…
While it sounds complicated, EN ISO 20345:2011 is actually really simple.
It specifies basic and additional (optional) requirements for safety footwear. All products must meet the minimum safety standards set out by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). This is the current standard for safety footwear across Europe (EN) and was updated in 2011 to become even more stringent. All safety footwear must now have toe protection against a 200-joule impact. This basically means the amount of energy the toe region can absorb before breaking.
Safety Footwear Abbreviations You Need to Know
Protective boots and shoes come in many forms. There are antistatic shoes, ECD (Electro Static Discharge) safety shoes, cut-resistant boots and footwear that is specifically designed to protect particularly delicate parts of the foot like the metatarsal.
Safety Boot Ratings Explained
There’s a clear system in place to gauge the level of protection offered by safety footwear, based on the abbreviations mentioned above. You’ve probably heard the term “S3 safety boots” bandied about before. Again, it sounds more complex than it is.
Here’s a breakdown of the safety boot/shoe ratings used in the UK…
What does all of this mean?
SB (Safety Basic)
The basic safety standard for footwear. These have toe protection against a 200-joule impact. They may also have additional safety features which will be shown via other symbols. For example, if you see SB-P this means that the safety footwear also has the additional feature of Penetration Resistance of the Midsole.
On top of the basic toe protection, S1 ensures the footwear has antistatic protection, is resistant to fuel oil and has energy absorption in the heel. Again other symbols can be added, such as S1-P as above.
S2 has all the same protection as S1, plus the added protection of preventing water penetration and absorption of the upper.
S3 safety footwear encompasses all the same levels of protection as S2, plus midsole penetration resistance.
All the protection offered by S1 but with an entirely moulded polymer/rubber upper (e.g. Wellington Boots) making them waterproof and leak-proof.
All the same features of S4 footwear with the added benefit of midsole penetration resistance.
Standards for Non-Slip Shoes
In many workplaces, anti-slip shoes are vital. There are separate standards that non-slip work boots and shoes must meet.
This is how they are classified…
What Are the Best Safety Shoes for Me?
Now that you know about the relevant standards, you’re in a better position to make an informed purchase. To help you find the best safety shoes to suit your needs, we asked our experts to share five practical tips.
- Don’t compromise on comfort
A trend has emerged in recent years, with more people looking for lightweight work footwear. The demand for safety trainers and shoes continues to grow. There has been a big shift in the past 30 years from the standard black cobble leather boot, which offered precious little flexibility.
In the past, injection-moulded safety footwear was produced from single-density PU (polyurethane) material whereas now most are produced from dual-density PU, offering greater manoeuvrability.
- Know what level of protection you need
Safety footwear, in general, is produced with the main aim of protecting the toes and base of the feet – toe protectors are a minimum requirement in many industries. However, you may need more than this.
Think about the job that you do. For example, a person who is working on a building site/demolition workplace would be unwise to buy a safety product that did not have a mid-sole to protect against underfoot nail penetration. A person working in a petrol station or any place of work where there is a high risk of flammability should buy boots with antistatic/electrical-resistance properties.
- Get the right size/fit
Comfortable safety boots make all the difference – you’re going to spend a large chunk of the day with them on your feet! If you usually wear a Size 8, but you require an extra-wide fit, you’re likely to be better suited to a Size 9.
- Never buy second-hand!
There’s no room for debate here. You should never buy second-hand safety footwear as you do not know what physical activity it has been subjected to. In terms of upgrading your work boots/shoes, once a safety product shows any sign of damage to the toe cap or mid-sole it should be replaced.
All safety footwear have their intrinsic built-in safety aspects and there are many types of constructions, upper materials and brand factors that will impact on price. Don’t automatically be put off by cheap safety boots. You can obtain a high technical spec safety boot at a much lower price than one offering the same standards.
- Think about aftercare to increase the lifespan of your safety footwear
When you’re buying new shoes or boots, think about how you can make them last. Good aftercare will without doubt enhance the lifespan and safety element of a product. Shoes should be given time to naturally air dry to prevent the build-up of perspiration/external moisture. Laces should be untied and laced for each wear.
This guide to winter shoe care offers some useful advice.
Need More Information? Contact Our Experts