Keeping Safe From Head To Toe

The great majority of OSHA citations regarding foot protection call for ANSI-approved safety-toed footwear. Approval is tied to the ability to resist compression and impact. The safety toes are commonly made of steel, but a composite material has been approved. Employees may wear the best steel toe boots with the correct fit and suitable socks. There are ANSI-approved foot guards that can be worn over conventional footwear, but proper diligence must be used to ensure that there are no attendant tripping hazards.

Railroad engineering safety is always a hot topic and a very broad one. This story looks at some aspects of the issue: safety footwear, both to protect the feet and to reduce slips and falls.

hearing protection

Hearing Protection

“Noise hazards on the railroad have always been part of the job,” said Brad Witt, audiology Manager, Howard Leight/Bilsom Hearing Protection. “But our ability to safely protect roadway maintenance workers has advanced significantly. A track maintenance worksite is constantly on the move, with potential hazards coming from any direction. Fortunately, a noise-induced hearing loss no longer has to be ‘the price we pay’ for working on a road track crew.”

Witt continued: “Three of the greatest needs in hearing protection for maintenance-of-way workers are visibility, comfort, and communication.

“High-visibility earmuffs give employees a total solution for both hearing protection and safe visibility at night and low-light conditions,” he said. “Bright earcups and a reflective headband provide high contrast against dark settings. A roadway maintenance crew is always on the move, with heavy equipment in operation throughout the work shift. These Hi-Vis earmuffs provide one more level of safety on the job, without isolating the wearer.

safety hearing

“Noise sources on track maintenance crews are often continuous over extended work shifts,” Witt noted. “To be effective, hearing protection needs to be worn 100 percent of the time during exposure. A comfortable hearing protector has a much better chance of being properly worn for the entire shift, rather than being frequently removed or left in the toolbox or pocket. Earplugs now available are made from materials that adapt to the shape of the ear canal, becoming more compliant with body temperature. A variety of very lightweight earmuffs now makes it easy and comfortable to wear proper protection, even for a 10-hour or 12-hour work shift.

“It is critical for roadway maintenance workers to still hear co-workers and warning signals, even while wearing hearing protection in loud noise environments,” Witt pointed out. “Several models of earplugs and earmuffs have been designed with speech communication and warning signals in mind, providing uniform attenuation across all frequencies so that voices of co-workers can be heard with less distortion. Electronic earmuffs can also enhance communication, allowing workers to plug into radio headsets and adjust the volume while still protecting their hearing. According to several prominent studies, the primary reason workers do not use hearing protectors more consistently is the feeling of isolation and the inability to communicate when wearing conventional earplugs. Fortunately, we now have some options that remove that isolation, allowing workers to stay connected to their worksite while still protecting their hearing.”

Reducing Slips and Falls

“We specialize in the reduction of slips and falls in the workplace,” said Jonathan Bell of Jordan David Safety. All the products we make are footwear items designed to work in conjunction with regular footwear and designed to increase traction and help to reduce the likelihood of slipping or falling. We have been servicing the railroad industry for at least the past 20 years, probably longer. The railroads found us because the heavy-duty, thick-soled, over-the-shoe boots that are common to the industry typically don’t provide enough traction in snow and ice situations.
“The railroad industry poses a particular challenge for anybody in the footwear industry,” Bell said. “Specifically, we found that railroaders walk on some of the toughest surfaces such as the jagged rocks of track ballast.

“We have come to believe that the surface always wins in the end,” he said. “The surfaces walked on will always destroy the footwear. It’s just a matter of how long it takes. So one of the big points of focus is durability. For instance, many railroads will utilize a type of over-the-shoe spike device. There have been such items on the market for 40-50 years. The biggest problem with these items being used by the railroad industry is they were designed more for consumer use. Typically, the rubber was too thin and was ripping very easily and the traction components were often coming out very quickly.

“One of the products we sell, GripX[TM], was specifically designed for the railroad industry,” Bell noted. “The rubber on the upper portion is thin, so it stretches when putting it on. The rubber on the bottom is thick so that it won’t tear as easily, and this helps with spike retention. This particular product has a two-piece spike that clamps in place.
“All the goods designed to reduce slips and falls are only as good as the traction element,” he said. “If you lose that traction element, you have a product that can hurt you. If you’re not aware that the traction element has come out, you may have a false sense of security because you’re walking on a product that was designed to increase traction and now it doesn’t do that.”

safety shoes

Bell continued: “We serve many industries, but a lot of products we design focus on the railroad industry because it’s kind of like the New York, New York song: ‘If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere.’ If we can make a railroad guy happy with our products, with the durability and traction, it’s usually a piece of cake for all the other industries.”

The company recently introduced Altragrips, an over-the-shoe spike boot, designed with the railroad customer in mind.

“The spikes are designed for maximum retention,” Bell noted. “We insert the spikes from the reverse side. The idea is that because we’re not putting in from the bottom up, it’s harder for the spikes to come out. The entryway where we put the spike is not exposed as people walk. It all boils down to durability. The surface is always going to win, but if we give the user a couple of extra months, we can save countless accidents by doing that.

“One of our oldest products is called Grips[R], an over-the-shoe boot with a sandpaper-like tread on the bottom,” Bell said. “This was the product that got us into the railroad industry, in the first place. One problem with the various types of competitive spike products is they can be excellent to wear in ice and snow, but they’re not entirely safe for normal and clean conditions. If an individual has to walk into a storeroom or even onto a clean spot of cement, what was helping him may now be hurting him, may be causing a tripping hazard or may be damaging the surface he’s walking on. With our Grips products, the way the sandpaper-like grip is engineered is that it will increase traction above what you would get from a standard rubber-soled shoe, but it remains very safe to wear in standard and clean conditions. It remains a very popular product in the railroad industry.

“We also think it’s vital that training and communication go hand-in-hand with the products. We have a variety of training and usage videos on our products, as well as training and communication posters that we offer at no charge for any railroad customer using our products. We believe that for them to get maximum benefits out of our products, you’ve got to communicate with end users on what you’re supposed to do and how to get the best use of the item and how to know when it’s worn out and time to get rid of it.”

Steel-toed Boot

Red Wing Shoe Co. recently added the 8706 Men’s Trioflex Boot Featuring full grain leather, versatile V-Task sole, Combat Superknit lining and RWDry waterproofing for comfort, flexibility, warmth, and dryness. Safety features include ANSI Z41 ratings and steel toe protection, which provide optimum protection.

Lamont Ly, the founder of who is known as an expert in foot care. He shared many helpful tips, trick on his website, that can help you to care and protect your feet. You can come to his resource and enjoy with his knowledge.

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Work Related

The shoes that have been designed for loggers, pole climbers and roof repairmen have found a niche. The footwear industry’s work-related shoes or loggers are predicted to be in demand basing on their sales during the Fashion Footwear Assn of New York’s show. Not only do loggers fit into the expected trend in blue-collar fashion, but they are also sturdy and practical for harsher climates.

Paul Bunyan: Fashion or Folk Hero?

Before Paul Bunyan goes down in the books a fashion legend, let’s check out how loggers are checking out at retail. According to several vendors at the recent Fashion Footwear Association of New York (FFANY) show, stores outside major cities are finding loggers may not answer all retail dreams.

Will they eventually move out of the stockroom onto the selling floor and, more importantly, onto consumers’ feet in larger quantities? Vendors agreed that the look might be a bit too forward for much of the buying public but — as with Dr. Martens — patience will prove a retail virtue.


There is a footnote that may encourage consumers to get out both their union cards and credit cards, and that’s the classic tan nubuck construction boot, which is making a comeback, according to FFANY resources. It’s a work-related look that’s not quite as severe as loggers, pole climbers and what one resource at FFANY referred to as a roofer boot, but it still fits into the wave of blue-collar fashion that’s washing over the young market.

But it’s not the silhouette that’s making news; it’s the color — a golden tan that in the past has been overshadowed by black. Suddenly, Tan is back and is even showing up in other silhouettes such as a basic Oxford on a lug sole.

The plain-toed Oxford and workbook will not be as plain as they’ve been in the past as moc toe treatments update the look. This detail, also being translated to the rugged category, may seem a minor one, but it’s one that gives retailers a reason to keep on buying. To prove its fashion merits, lines like Dr. Martens, shown by London Underground, Portland, Ore., pictured here, are offering the look for a non-union crowd.


The Real Interest is Still in Bottoms

Whatever may be happening in uppers, the real interest is still in bottoms, with lug soles still the number-one choice on just about everything. However, there is more to the sole story coming up, and that’s the reintroduction of genuine crepe, a sometimes pricey material but one that keeps the environment in mind with its natural characteristics.

Consumers’ growing awareness of Mother Nature is the reason waterproof leathers mean so much these days. It’s no longer a material reserved for performance looks, but one the consumer is demanding in everyday footwear, particularly in harsher climates.

But being practical isn’t everything even in the men’s business, and the forward end of the business is betting on elongated lasts that finish off in blunter, squarer-toed shapes. Often, they’re being interpreted in slip-on versions that reach around the instep. Chunky heels and soles balance out the look.

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Athletic wearers are going for style

A new generation of workers who grew up in athletic footwear and an increasing number of women in blue-collar jobs, report makers of work and safety shoes, are demanding more style in work shoes – a style that seems to be a departure from the traditional tan lace-up.

These firms increasingly are striving to incorporate givens of athletic footwear –fashion, comfort, and lightweight — into work and safety footwear that often must also continue to fulfill regulations set by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).


Demand for Steel Toes

In other words, may be stronger than ever, sources suggested.

“You’ve heard a lot about comfort in walking shoes?” said Charlie Horton, national in-stock sales manager of Carolina Shoe Co., Morgantown, N.C. “People want it in steel toes.”

Carolina introduced steel-toe athletic more than a year ago, reporting strength in high- and low-top styles for men and women. “The hottest thing on the market is athletic safety shoes,” Morton said, reporting that black shoes with pale trims are most popular.

Wolverine Brand, a division of Wolverine World Wide Inc., Rockford, Mich., has varied its design of safety shoes with hiking looks as well as athletic styles. These looks, said Ted Gedra, national sales manager, appeals to younger customers.

“These guys grew up in athletic shoes,” Gedra said. “They want something they can go out in after work. It’s been an explosive stock number for us.”

Design, emulating athletics or otherwise, also has become more of a priority as women join the workforce that wears work and safety footwear, and as OSHA expands its roster of those required to wear them, sources said.

Richland Shoe Co., Womelsdorf, Pa., is seeking to address the needs of both these groups. The company, for instance, now has a line of safety-toe shoes for women.

“We want to give them something kind of fashionable, but at the same time something that serves the purpose,” said John Lebow, sales manager.

Steve Kellman, marketing vice president of Weynbrenner Shoe Co. Inc., Merrill, Wisc., reported women’s styles have helped increase the company’s business. “Women in the workplace are growing in numbers, and they aren’t just interested in grading down in men’s shoes,” Kellman said.

Lebow continued, “Along the line of dress and casual safety shoes, we’re doing genuine handsewn loafers, which meet the OSHA requirements. Supervisors are required to wear safety shoes but want dress shoes for the office. You don’t see the cap at all.”

Athletic styling has heightened competition not only for market share; sources reported, but sourcing advantages.
“The market is very competitive,” Lebow said, reporting his company has expanded its offering with athletic styles.
C. Itoh Shoe Co., New York, has stayed out of athletics because of sourcing complexities. “We’re sticking to more staple items, but I have heard they (athletics) are doing well,” said Gary Miller, vice president of Itoh.

Dunham, Brattleboro, Vt., has considered athletics but also prefers to stick with more traditional work and safety footwear going forward. “We’ve taken a quick look at athletic styles,” said Richard Sherwin, vice president.
In the meantime, Sherwin reported, Dunham is busy filling boot orders. “We’re just keeping up with the demand,” he said. “We’ve also added a pattern or two.”


Trend toward Wearability

Dunham, for instance, is aiming to reduce bulk in its work shoes, an advantage of athletic styles.

C. Itoh’s Miller said the trend in work and safety boots is toward comfort, lightweight, and flexibility.

Demand also is strong, Miller added, for durability and wearability. Imitation materials, therefore, are on the downswing.

“You’ve got to use the durable material in shoes,” he insisted. “They have to stand up. That’s why vinyl materials went down.”

Miller noted oiled nubucks are performing better than oiled full-grains. Waterproof materials, he said, are a must.
“A 100 percent waterproof shoe is a tremendous selling feature,” Miller said.

Carolina’s Horton said demand for various design features varies regionally. “We have well over 100 styles we carry on the floor all the time,” Horton said. “Each section of the country has a different twist of things they are looking for. We try to design these shoes to fit these needs.”

East Coast and Midwest workers who work indoors, for instance, are looking for a boot with a lower (six-inch) shaft, Horton said. On the West Coast and in the Pacific Northwest, where outdoor work is more abundant, workers need something higher (eight inches).

“They (in the Northwest) are looking more for an outdoor shoe,” Horton explained. “Like the logging industry, where they will want an eight-inch with lug soles and a higher heel so they can grip in. They don’t want to be slipping around with their chain saws.”

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Work Shoe Makers Woo Women Via Fashion, Style

In an effort to meet the demand of women working in construction, sanitation, and other physical jobs, several professional and safety shoe manufacturers are producing women’s footwear shoes to satisfy the rapidly growing market.

One manufacturer, Jallette Inc., Ivyland, Pa., has gone as far as adding a line of fashionable women’s safety shoes in an array of colors and styles.

Overall, the consensus of the work and safety market by manufacturers is business is improving, sales are increasing, and they are optimistic again about the future growth of the market. Although they reported heavy industry is declining, the high-tech element of the production is increasing.

Last year, a majority of manufacturers polled by FN revealed fashion had become part of the market; not only were blue-collar workers wearing the footwear, but it also was considered a “fad’ outside of the specialty market.
Fashion continues to be a factor in the work shoe market, and some manufacturers who do not want to miss out on the new market are becoming more fashionable by adding touches of style and color to their lines.


Style and Function

Titan Industrial Footwear, a division of Walker Shoe Co., Asheboro, N.C., is doing just that. The company has added different looks, padded collars and various stylish features to its line of shoes, noted Dan Saylor, president. He added, “We are a lot more stylish than we were five years ago.’

Sheboygan Footwear Inc., Sheboygan, Wis., “may be stylish in the functional styles,’ according to Palmer Beebe, the general manager. Beebe explained the firm is trying to produce what is performing well– lightweight safety shoes.
Weinbrenner Shoe Co., Merrill, Wis., said its focus is not on fashion but the American working men in the mills and on farms.

For the past few years, the market has seen its ups as well as its downs. Now things are finally looking up for producers and the general market, sales have increased, and companies have added new and updated styles, sources said.

“Our sales are up 10-15 percent this year,’ said Rick Sherwin, executive vice president, Dunham Shoes, Brattleboro, Vt. The firm is expanding its waterproof leather program with three to four new styles in insulated and non-insulated materials. “We continue to expand our toe safety program, and we are sticking with primary active made-in-the-U.S.A. products.’

Safety Stabilization

Saylor of Titan Industrial contended the market is holding its own over last year, but “the heavy industry is down due to too many layoffs in the steel industry.’ Now, he said, “there is a stabilization in the safety shoes because people are becoming more conscious of the lighter types of safety shoes. Our company has been doing excellent; we are optimistic and are looking for a very good ’88. Sales are up for ’87 and are showing an increase for ’88.’ The firm has featured several new styles in its catalog, ultra-light and comfort-oriented safety shoes.

“Business is booming, and sales have been holding about level,’ said Bill Ison, vice president of sales, Musebeck Shoe Co., Oconomoc, Wis. “Overall, it has been beyond our expectation for the year,’ and “I have been hearing more and more about companies who have been getting loaded up with business.’ He revealed both of the company’s plants have been running overtime, and the demand is outstripping production.


Market is “Healthier’

“The market is healthier,’ noted Beebe. “I don’t know whether it’s more people working, but the phones at Sheboygan Footwear are ringing more.’ He said business is very healthy, and interest is focused more on outdoor safety, functional type footwear. Beebe would not disclose sales figures, but said sales are up significantly. He revealed the company has consolidated and is doing some great rubber bottoms. “We are trying to take the things we do well (safety shoes) and concentrate on that.’

Eric Merk, president, and owner of Danner Boot Co., Portland, Ore., saw a 23 percent increase this year on highly technological products. He said Danner’s Gortex work boots are doing very well, and the company has added a 10-inch boot for people in the armed services and a Gortex Oxford for post office workers.

Steve Kellman, vice president of marketing, Weinbrenner Shoe Co., Merrill, Wis., said that firm is optimistic about the market and has seen an increase in its customer base. “Safety is a vital part of our business, and we have developed some lighter weight work boots, using nonmetallic protective toe and new space age material,’ said Kellman.

Color, Lightness

Weinbrenner’s business is quite good, and sales are up, according to Kellman. The company has added polyurethane soles and nonmetallic caps as new features to its line.

“Our sales are up 15 percent this year,’ noted June Abbott, manager of Jallatte Inc., Ivyland, Pa. The firm has introduced ladies’ fashion shoes for women in a new sole technology.

With the increase of women in the workplace, there are not just more females in managerial positions; some now are climbing ladders, digging ditches and building houses. Sources said women used to complain that the safety shoes they were forced to wear were not very becoming or attractive; so to allow them to look more “feminine,’ Jallette Inc. added its version of colorful, lightweight, comfortable, feminine-styled and general-purpose women’s safety shoes.
“Women like to look good, regardless of what their job is,’ explained Abbott, so the firm introduced fashion shoes for women who want “style.’ Jallette is among a growing list of work shoe manufacturers producing safety shoes for women.

“There is a demand for women’s safety shoes,’ said Musebeck’s Ison. “We do some women’s shoes, but we have a major problem with it because of the way we make shoes. We make nine different widths but due to the character of our last, we don’t have the correct safety to meet the last correctly. Since the demand is so high, we have to find strong resource to supply us with the toe.’

Sherwin of Dunham agreed: “There is a definite need in the market. It’s practical, and the demand for both the consumer and retailer is right. The women’s category is just starting to grow with us, but in the boot category.’


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