Keeping employees safe and comfortable in the food and beverage processing industry!
The food processing industry has much higher lost-time injury rates than other industries in Canada. In fact it ranks the highest for lost-time injury rate in Ontario, in part due to slips, trips and falls, but also basic foot fatigue that comes from standing on hard surfaces with less than ideal footwear may be a contributing factor. Employees who work in environments where they have regular contact with chemicals, general wet conditions as well as animal by-products, frequently wear “rubber” boots. Unfortunately, rubber boots tend to be a less comfortable form of safety footwear because they do not tend to offer the same support as an actual work boot, nor do they tend to breathe.
Although they are commonly referred to as “rubber” boots, that is not what they are made of in most cases. Here’s a short primer on “rubber” boots you are choosing for your employees to help ensure you make the best occupational health and safety (and comfort) decisions.
- Natural Rubber: Very few “Rubber” boots are actually made out of rubber because they tend to be more expensive as well as being heavy. Suitable for some chemical environments they are also rated excellent for many acids and ammonia. They do work well in cold environments because rubber does not become hard or brittle and it also provides superior grip or traction.
- PVC: The most common and inexpensive form of rubber boots tend to be made from PVC. It performs well against most acids and some oils and can be used and worn in a wide range of industrial applications from poultry or animal waste environments, to hazmat technicians, site remediation and for emergency responders. The material tends to be somewhat heavier and does not do well in cold environment where it hardens, and then cracks easily.
- Polyurethane (PU): Then the next most common material for making rubber boots is Polyurethane (PU). PU tends to be lightweight, making it more comfortable to work in. It also offers good slip-resistant properties for a good indoor grip. PU performs a little better in cold applications than PVC does.
- TPU (Thermoplastic polyurethane): Essential this is PU with a rubber compound added to it which keeps it light but also provides better grip for colder work environments.
- Neoprene: Lighter in weight than rubber and also waterproof and flexible makes it very comfortable to wear. It’s rated well for most acids, oils, petroleums and works well in many chemical and oil related industries like agri-chemical, oil drilling and refining.
IMPORTANT: Safety Rubber boots should be checked regularly for integrity because harsh cleaning chemicals can degrade the material and make it porous and not safe to wear
Rubber boots may be less comfortable than regular safety footwear as they do not tend to offer as much support or breathability. So, to keep your employees cool and comfortable and reduce strain, consider recommending these options to your employees:
- Insoles: They support the natural arch of the foot which means less strain on legs and backs, which can help mitigate workplace injury and fatigue.
- Merino wool socks: They keep feet warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer, so they can be worn fall year for added comfort.
- Bama liners: These removable boot liners can wick away perspiration from feet in cold conditions. NOTE: They aren’t as breathable as more natural fibres options like merino wool socks, so may not be effective for everyone.
At Mister Safety Shoes, our goal is to provide businesses and workers with expert advice on the fit, comfort and protection of safety footwear in order to help create a more productive and safe workplace.