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.
“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.
“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.”
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.”
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.
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