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Feet First: Choosing the Right Footwear for the Job and Sports

According to the American Podiatric Medical Association (APMA), the feet of an average adult during an average day bear a force equal to several hundred tons. Feet need the protection of proper footwear.

Work shoes

Both men and women should wear safety shoes and boots appropriate for the job and designed specifically to protect feet. Safety shoes and boots can be waterproof (or water-resistant), can have insulated steel toe caps and soles of non-conducting materials, and cushioned soles. If your work requires you to be on your feet for long periods, your shoes need to be comfortable and support your feet. It's also necessary that your shoes be able to absorb shock while you walk and provide stability to the heel.

If you must stand on your feet for long periods, or if you work with materials or in potentially hazardous areas, ask your supervisor about the type of footwear you need. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration requires employers to ensure their employees wear protective footwear in settings in which foot injuries could occur from falling or rolling objects, from objects piercing the sole, or from exposure to electrical hazards.

Each year, more than 60,000 foot injuries result in lost work days in the United States. According to the journal Occupational Health and Safety, 75 percent of injuries resulted because workers were non-compliant.

Choosing your work shoes

The website Osh.Net and other safety sources recommend certain types of safety shoes or boots to protect from various hazards, including:

  • Spills from chemicals and solvents. Choose footwear made of rubber, plastic or vinyl, with synthetic stitching.

  • Cuts or punctures from sharp objects. Wear puncture-resistant, reinforced-sole footwear and shin guards.

  • Shock from electrical current. Wear electrical hazard footwear with no exposed metal parts, rubber soles and heels, and rubber-insulated steel toes.

  • Injury from extreme cold. Choose water-repellent footwear containing moisture- or oil-resistant insulation and wear insulated socks.

  • Burns from extreme heat or direct flame. Wear fire-resistant overshoes or boots with wooden soles.

  • Impact injuries from falling or rolling objects. Wear steel-toe footwear or metatarsal footwear and shin guards.

  • Sanitation contamination. Use specially designed overshoes or plastic booties.

  • Falls from slips and skids. Choose footwear with non-slip rubber or neoprene soles, or non-skid sandals that slip over shoes.

  • Fires or explosions from sparking. Wear safety shoes made of non-sparking material and with no metal parts.

  • Fires or explosions from static electricity. Wear conductive footwear, which discharges static electricity from the body through the shoes into floors that are grounded.

Shoes for athletics

Different sports activities require different movement and positions for feet. The structure of the foot and any abnormalities, such as over or under pronation) should be considered in choosing a shoe for sports. An evaluation by a podiatrist can determine if there are any problems that need to be considered in choosing shoes. Some problems can be corrected by orthotic devices.

The following are recommendations from the APMA:

  • Walking shoes should provide side-to-side stability and be well-cushioned.

  • Running shoes should be cushioned to absorb impact, bend fully at the ball of the foot and be relatively stable at midfoot.

  • Tennis shoes should give support and permit sudden stops and turns.

  • A general athletic shoe, or cross trainer, is good for physical education classes.

  • Aerobic shoes should have cushioning to absorb shock and should provide side-to-side stability.

  • Casual cyclists who don’t use toe clips and who do not have foot problems can use cross-training shoes.

  • Basketball and volleyball players require shoes specifically made their sports. Ankle support and shock absorption are essential.

Other footwear tips

Experts advise workers to:

  • Inspect their footwear for holes or cracks before wearing it, to avoid leaks.

  • Not borrow footwear.

  • Replace any footwear that is worn or otherwise damaged.

  • Choose footwear that meets or exceeds ANSI Z41 standards.

  • Wear shoes and boots that fit properly to help prevent tripping. Your feet should be measured late in the day when your feet have likely swollen and while you are standing; try on both shoes and walk in them. Since feet are seldom exactly the same size, buy a shoe that fits the larger foot.

  • Hose down footwear after working with chemicals and before removing footwear to rinse away any residue.

  • Wear protective footwear when using lawn mowers or chain saws and when moving heavy objects.

  • If possible, don’t wear the same pair of two days in a row.