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Safety Footwear Fact or Fiction? 5 Work Boot Myths Dispelled

photo shoes a person wearing boots about to step on the cameraWhen it comes to PPE, there are all kinds of myths, misconceptions and theories. Because many wearers' experiences – which can be exceptional or unusual to say the least - are passed down through the ages and often shared online, it’s common to run into a lot of safety footwear folklore. And while some might be a little weird and wonderful, it's easy to mistake fiction for fact, and even worse, make the wrong decision about your protection.

So, in this piece, we're addressing the red herrings and leather legends. As well as stamping out these myths and clarifying the grey areas, most importantly we'll be providing you with some sound health and safety footwear advice to keep you safe and comfortable.

Let's get myth busting.

1.  Steel toecaps are stronger than composite

This is a common assumption, but one that isn’t really based on fact. Composite toecaps are just as strong as steel toecaps, because they are tested in exactly the same way under the European standard EN ISO 20345. Commonly, composite toecaps are created with layers of fibreglass impregnated with resin that are pressed together which makes them incredibly strong - and just as capable of protecting the wearer as a steel toecap.

In fact, many wearers prefer composite toecaps, as they are lighter, they don’t conduct electricity, and they help feet stay warmer as they don’t conduct the cold. To add to this, some argue that because steel toecaps don’t retain their shape after impact and composite retains up to 80% of it, the non-steel toecap is actually safer.

2. You should submerge your safety boots in water to break them in

There are a lot of unusual (and downright perplexing) theories about how best to break in a pair of boots, though this is one of the more extreme. We’ve even heard people recommend using a wooden mallet to hammer the heels of new boots to soften them.

Our opinion? There are very few occasions in life where soaking and then hammering a new product is a good idea – and this is definitely not one of them either. Not only will both these actions damage or compromise a boot even before you’ve started wearing it, crucially, while your feet might need a little while to get used to new pair, well-made safety boots built on the right last shouldn’t need breaking in.

3. Safety toecaps make foot injuries worse

Ideas such as ‘toes can get amputated by the toecap when impacted’ and ‘if feet are crushed, a toecap makes it harder to remove the foot from the boot’ have prevailed through the years despite clear evidence to the contrary.

This type of thinking is similar to the argument about how wearing a seatbelt can create more injuries than they prevent. Well, as I said to my friend the other day who was complaining about his seat-belt related pain after his car was hit by another motorist, ‘Would you rather have a sore neck and seat belt burn or have been thrown through the windscreen?’

The same is true for toecaps. There might be the odd exception, but ultimately, toecaps are the foot’s last line of defence against a heavy falling object – and moreover, they are tested for clearance as well. This means they have to show during safety testing there is enough room between the toecap and the toes so they aren’t cut or crushed by impact. In other words, they are designed to protect.

4. The more insoles I have, the more comfortable my feet are.

To use a fairly non-specialist term – nope! Many (understandably) assume that more cushioning means more comfort. But in the world of safety footwear, it’s a different story.

Having two insoles means the foot moves higher up in the boot, and this reduces the distance between the toecap and the toes. This distance is vital because it’s a space that stops the toe getting crushed if a toecap is pushed downward on impact. A second insole can also be very painful, because it pushes the foot up so it rubs on parts of the boot that it was previously aligned with.

Also, insoles with excessive cushioning such as gel insoles can actually increase strain on muscles and tendons. Just think how fatiguing it is to walk over sand at the beach. Well, having an insole covered from toe to heel in squishy foam or gel cushioning would have the same effect: it would be fatiguing and bad for your joints.

The best bet is to have an insole that’s supportive but firm under the heel area with moderate but appropriate support under the arch.

Want to find out more about insoles as a foot health and safety solution? Head to this blog.

5. You can waterproof safety boots

This myth has largely developed because of the confusion over the difference between waterproof and water-resistant.

A water-resistant boot will resist the penetration of water to a certain degree, but with prolonged exposure, water will get in eventually. On the other hand, a waterproof boot will stop any water getting in, because it will have a special waterproof lining (or membrane).

Products such as oils, waxes and sprays are available to strengthen and sustain leather's resistance to water – and we've even heard of people spraying WD-40 on their footwear to boost its repellence against water. Should you chose to try this, it’s only appropriate for dark leather. But it does stop your boots from squeaking. (joke)

The key thing to remember is that these substances will only strengthen your boot's water resistance: it won't make the boot waterproof. A leather boot won't be waterproof unless it has a specific waterproof membrane.

Want to see an industry-leading waterproof membrane at work in a boot? Take a look here.  

Myths busted

So, how many did you think were true, and how many did you know were merely the stuff of leather legend? The main point is that when it comes to safety, knowledge is power. Knowing how your boot needs to protect you against the challenges of your role and environment is vital. And while it’s good to ask colleagues (and Google) for advice, often, this can result in getting good guidance alongside outdated, inaccurate information.

So, when it comes to grey or confusing areas of safety footwear, seeking advice from a recognised safety footwear expert is always the best idea.

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