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I work in a factory where we must wear protective equipment. Everybody (except for agency workers) is provided with a personal pair of boots. But in certain areas you cannot enter with your boots and you must put on boots that someone else is wearing daily, the footwear is dirty, smelly and sometimes even wet inside, is it normal that they make us do that? I am extremely disgusted by this practice, but I cannot do anything about it. Keep in mind that agency workers actually need to wear this dirty footwear on a daily basis for 11 hours a day. We are not allowed to buy our own footwear, because of companies policies, and the reason why we need to swap boots is because it is in an allergy risk area, so we cant wear same equipment like in other departments.

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  • 5
    why do you have to take your boots off and wear someone elses? And what do they wear when you got their shoes?
    – Kilisi
    Mar 20, 2021 at 23:18
  • Is it possible to use a second pair of personal boots for the restricted area?
    – jcm
    Mar 21, 2021 at 0:09
  • 4
    I think you should tell the country/region of your employment.
    – PM 77-1
    Mar 21, 2021 at 0:58
  • It's pretty normal to not provide personal equipment for agency workers. Can you buy your own boots? Mar 21, 2021 at 1:00
  • 5
    Not knowing your actual location/jurisdiction, there no way for us to actually help you. Mar 21, 2021 at 8:16

4 Answers 4

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Provide your own boots, or ask your agency to provide them.

Factory floors have safety standards which have to be adhered to. If you need to be going on one then you need the tools for the job just like anything else.

Further if you're entering a factory environment for extended periods you need to know all the safety standards. They're not arbitrary rules put there for fun. They're for your protection, the protection of others, the equipment and the company.

I carry a high vis vest, construction helmet, earmuffs, safety gloves and boots as a matter of course as a freelancer, it's part of my normal toolkit in the car boot. When I worked for a service provider, they provided the correct gear for any jobs we did. But I used my own boots even then.

Whatever happens this should not be made the client companies problem unless it's very temporary. It's between the agency and yourself.

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It is not unusual for agency works not to have their own personal gear, and instead use "communal" gear.

It is also not unusual for agency workers that work in a specific industry to buy their own gear, and take that from site to site. Also, sometimes agencies will provide equipment for their employees.

Apart from feeling "icky" you biggest concern would be from contracting athlete's foot.

Assuming you don't want to buy your own boots, my recommendations is you take a few pairs of socks and a towel to work. Sodium bicarbonate sprinkled within the socks will help keep your feet fresh and decrease the chance of athlete's foot developing. Also, should one of the boots be surprisingly wet, you can replace your socks.

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  • 15 min hot salt water soak in a plastic dishpan before going to bed, let air dry. (salt kills foot fungus better, and cheaper, than most meds IME) . 2x-3x per week. as long as you suspect heavy exposure or have symptoms.... or get your own boots w/ steel toe or whatever the site requires.
    – Pete W
    Mar 21, 2021 at 14:39
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If the jurisdiction is the UK, then the responsibility for providing PPE rests with the employer.

Given the mention of agency workers, I should add that the meaning of the "employer" in this context is likely to be interpreted somewhat liberally, and encompass virtually anyone who directs the work of agency workers. There is a separate history of case law in industrial safety and vicarious liability where "employer" is given a very expansive meaning.

There is no specific rule against sharing PPE, provided it is of a kind designed for sharing. Bowling alley shoes, for example, are designed for multiple users, and are actively managed to ensure they remain in good order and free from subtle deterioration, and are freshened, disinfected, and are then left to settle and dry out between uses.

Ordinary PPE footwear (as with virtually all PPE items) is not usually designed with sharing in mind, and if the boots are damp and smelly then there is obviously no system in place to manage them as shared items. Environments and skin both dampened by bodily fluids tend to be breeding grounds for germs, and routinely sharing footwear amongst diverse strangers would certainly be a weakness against the spread of a contagious disease.

Another aspect to this problem is that by providing items which most reasonable people would find revolting, the employer may be launching a collateral attack on their obligation to provide "suitable" PPE and ensure its use - either by encouraging the worker to purchase their own truly personal equipment at their own expense, or by creating a strong deterrent to compliance with wearing such equipment (which may be relevant in cases where there is little effective supervision of what the worker wears).

There may also be an argument that such practices are both reflective of bad attitudes to workers' safety, and liable to create bad cultural attitudes amongst workers to protective measures and hygiene habits in general, and thus represent risks to industrial safety in themselves.

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Yes, I remember as a teenager, my job at a fast food joint we had to share a thick jacket when we went outside in the cold to throw trash away, dump grease, or just clean up the parking lot. We also had to wear it going into the freezer. It felt nasty to wear that jacket. The only reason why we have to wear it is because it had some sort of fire resistance to it plus the company's logo. Although I wasn't near anything dangerous, that was the reason I got from talking to the manager. Something about safety rules they had to follow with their insurance in case someone got locked in the freezer or caught on fire outside.

Although I didn't work on the flight deck, I remember the Navy had ear protectors and helmets that had to be shared between the shift. People usually put a cover over it or they double stuff with a foam plug along with the protected gear.

But in certain areas you cannot enter with your boots and you must put on boots that someone else is wearing daily, the footwear is dirty, smelly and sometimes even wet inside, is it normal that they make us do that?

I would say overall it doesn't sound unusual, but I am having a hard time understanding why you must take your issued boots off and put on a different type of boot. It also sounds like this is done over an extended period of time so it's not just to walk from one side to the other.

With that said, I would first talk to your boss. Find out why these boots must be worn and what makes them different from what you're currently wearing. If an answer cannot be provided, my advice is to ask if you can wear your current boots in these areas. It could be for safety, insurance, or various other reasons why you must wear these boots in such an area. For example, if you wore your own boots and had an injury, their insurance might not pay for their damages it if they find out they did not told you about the boots or knowingly allowed you to wear your own boots. In this situation when I say insurance, I mean them paying the company for when you sue them. If they find out they allowed you to wear the boots, they might tell the company they're on their own as far as paying for whatever injuries you may suffer.

Other than that, I don't think it sounds totally unusual if the boots are special purpose and obviously the company can't spend a large amount of money for each person with these kind of gear (especially if they cost in the 1000s or 10s of 1000s to buy).

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