30

I recently started a new career and I've been working at a new job in an industrial setting for the past 10 months. So far everything has been going good, I like the work, I like my coworkers and I like my boss.

My only issue with the job is that everyone is required to wear steel-toed-shoes. Normally this wouldn't be an issue, but I do spend a considerable amount of time climbing on ladders and up on equipment and I just feel like having two heavy weights on my feet reduces my agility and considerably increases the risk of a fall.

I can't even imagine any scenarios where my feet could possibly get hurt due to the lack of foot protection, but I see many scenarios were I could fall and get seriously hurt and the extra weight on the feet being the cause.

I think I have 3 options:

  1. Not say anything, continue to wear the steel-toes. I think this would be rather stupid if I do end up falling and getting hurt/killed.

  2. Complain to someone about this like my manager or the safety coordinator. I really don't want to do this either since I'm new and I don't think it would do any good. I think they'd just end up pointing to the policy and say that I gotta follow the rules.

  3. Just wear normal shoes, and not tell anyone. I think it is highly unlikely anyone would ever check if I were wearing the right shoes and highly unlikely I'd get injured to the lack of them.

So I guess I'm pretty much leaning to option number 3. Is there any reason option 1 or 2 would be better, or are there better alternative options?

4
  • 2
    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Kilisi
    Commented Oct 23, 2022 at 6:40
  • 30
    What country are you working in? A lot of answers are citing regulations and insurance policies which may be different based on location. Commented Oct 23, 2022 at 11:08
  • 3
    While many commenters are making good points, can we keep the additional comments on the question for direct clarification questions for the OP and the more general discussion of the matter in the above chat room
    – motosubatsu
    Commented Oct 24, 2022 at 14:04
  • 6
    Clarification please - do the regs mandate steel caps, or are you able to wear composite-reinforced boots? Can you wear kitchen-safety shoes (which are hard-toed low-ankle shoes not high-cuff boots) and remain compliant with requirements ? Either will give a lighter and more-agile footwear.
    – Criggie
    Commented Oct 24, 2022 at 20:58

14 Answers 14

155

Safety standards exist for good reason. Steel capped boots are mandatory in many places. You need to comply with the policies or you can be a danger to yourself and those around you.

In addition quite often the policies are not mandated by the company, they're regulated and if found in breach a company can be in serious trouble.

I once held a job with 'Health & Safety' doing random spot inspections, and if I found any sort of breach the consequences could be severe. Something as minor as a loose screw in a hand rail could close a whole floor of a building while other checks are done. No steel caps in the wrong place would get a staff member sent off site immediately while their bosses take flak.

but I do spend a considerable amount of time climbing on ladders and up on equipment and I just feel like having two heavy weights on my feet reduces my agility and considerably increases the risk of a fall.

They're not very heavy and you get used to them. Anywhere with lots of ladders and equipment should wear them because a falling object hitting a badly protected foot is a valid danger.

Lastly, you need to recognize that safety boots are robust gear, they need to be broken in before they're really comfortable. They don't just protect your toes, they're designed to be hard to pierce, good grip, and some protection against chemicals and electricity.

5
  • 14
    Seen situations with QA and Safety where any write ups would just result in a work stoppage, so if you were to wear the wrong shoes, and were caught you would be written up and would not be allowed to work until you wore the correct shoes. You wouldn’t be paid for those hours or time you were not in compliance.
    – Donald
    Commented Oct 22, 2022 at 13:58
  • 4
    I have worked in a shop as an Engineer besides the technicians, had QA come around, and kicked me out of the area for a gold necklace. The point I had to stop my work if I forgot to not wear my necklace, even though I wasn’t even near the equipment, or performing the work myself. Safety typically is taken seriously, failure to follow the rules is taken seriously, and there is little wiggle room. My advice just get another pair of safety shoes that fit better.
    – Donald
    Commented Oct 22, 2022 at 14:22
  • 21
    @Donald Absolutely. Standard in any UK industrial settings: "No hat? No boots? No hi-viz? No work" Commented Oct 22, 2022 at 16:09
  • I was once on a job site where the requirements were not just steel toed boots, but boots with external metatarsal coverage. I actually did have concerns about those boots and climbing ladders as the metatarsal support could potentially catch on something.
    – Peter M
    Commented Oct 23, 2022 at 23:33
  • @Donald this is of course to avoid difficulties in enforcement (in order to provide the benefit of wearing a necklace) of varieties including tracking the positions of those in violation; "he's doing it, why can't I?"; later discovery that the cadaver had forgotten to remove the offending jewelry when called over to help (possibly after rushing to help an injured worker)... Commented Oct 24, 2022 at 22:37
124

Wear your PPE or quit.

Option number 3 is a very good way to get absolutely nothing from the company or its insurance agency if you do get injured. It is also a very common way to get fired. Wear your PPE. Quitting is a much better and way less cowardly option.

Now what you can do is ASK (not "complain", just ask...) the safety manager or your boss if you can try a different brand or have adjustments made to the ones you have gotten. The worst you'll get is a no, which incidentally is the same you will get if you complain, only this time you are not coming across like a Troublesome Employee. And I would say that in MOST cases you'll get help finding equipment that both conforms to the rules and are less cumbersome for you.

What you also can do is get a pair for home and wear them all day, you'll adjust to them.

I would also advise you to change your mindset about safety and safety rules in general. Most if not all safety rules and equipment on my site are in some way uncomfortable, not necessary most of the time and is experienced as an obstacle. Nobody likes safety rules and nobody likes their PPE. Yet everyone is expected to follow them. Everyone is expected to use the equipment. Time after time the unforseeable happens somewhere in the world - and the last line of defense was the behaviour or the (lack of...) personal protection. Don't be the guy with one arm that regrets his choices in life.

Sincerely, a factory manager.

4
  • 3
    Good point about getting used to them. Commented Oct 22, 2022 at 17:40
  • 4
    Re not necessary most of the time -- definitely true. It's the 1% of the time (or whatever) where PPE saves a foot or a brain that count, and those incidents are not predictable. What is predictable is that those incidents can and do happen. Wear your PPE when required to do so, and follow all safety rules. I left a mess of blood on product in a summer job decades ago and kept on working. Dumb. Commented Oct 24, 2022 at 13:44
  • 8
    "Nobody likes safety rules and nobody likes their PPE." This is the only thing I disagree with. PPE is amazing and I know that I'm safer for having used it. If I wasn't safer, then accidents today would be just as bad as the 19th century. Commented Oct 24, 2022 at 19:45
  • @mini And thank you for that! I try to see it that way, as often as I can. I don't always succeed, but I wear it proudly notwithstanding. But I do interpret it that you like the ppe for its function, not its form nor its fit?
    – Stian
    Commented Oct 25, 2022 at 14:41
98

Humans are really, really bad at safety science

It's very strange. Humans are actually terrible at assessing safety risk. They drive carefree to the airport then are terrified during cruise, which is really backwards! We see people get ulcers over well-contained asbestos hardboard on their homes... not at all because of any medical understanding of asbestos, but only because late-night TV is plastered with ads from lawyers hoping to get 1/3 contingency fee for tapping a few asbestos trust funds (which benefit career workers who breathed asbestos dust for 20 years without PPE). And SMH - aluminum wire. Which turned out to be institutionalized incorrect installation, easily corrected in hindsight. (and footnote: the necessary torque screwdrivers finally required in NEC 2014, every electrician fought those the way you fight boots).

In simplest terms, people are not inherently good at science. Science is not easy, and the hardest part is the scientific method - squishing out anything that would tilt the results toward an outcome.

Without science, you can't do accurate risk assessment.

But humans are really good at confirmation bias

And you really do not like those boots.

So naturally, you are cherry-picking evidence that says the boots are bad, and willfully ignoring the body of evidence that says the boots are important. If you're looking at all.

You think yourself the grand master of safety experts - don't we all! And you fall into the familiar pattern of bristling at some government requirements that you imagine comes from know-nothing bureaucrats. But that's a fantasy.

Reality is you are quite new to the field. And that sophomoric feeling - "I know a little, therefore I know a lot" actually has been explored by two scientists named Dunning & Kruger. They determined the bottom cohort in a skill area were convinced they were much smarter than they were. They resisted acknowledging their poor scores. Amazing paper. The paper showed training would work if the test subject agreed, but training is only possible if you want to learn, and "confirmation bias" is the definition of not wanting it). I interpret as "It takes constant vigilance to NOT be that closed-minded person".

Especially when you're new in a field.

Managers have given up talking sense into workers.

That's why the sign says "No boots, No work" and not "For why we require boots, see these 11 scientific papers". Because most workers don't give a damn what those scientific papers say. So all workers get treated like 12-year-olds.

Complain to someone about this like my manager or the safety coordinator. I really don't want to do this either since I'm new and I don't think it would do any good. I think they'd just end up pointing to the policy and say that I gotta follow the rules.

That's correct. They're NOT going to have the scientific discussion with you, because they don't think you care. Are they wrong? Does a scientific paper or data-driven study possibly exist which will turn you into a boot evangelist?

Put on your "research scientist" cap and start doing a meta-study of the literature. See what the data tells you. If you can earnestly see an opening for "boots hurt agility" argument, then start developing data and write a scientific paper of your own. Submit it for peer review and see if it gets torn apart by experts. Are you likely to sway? If you admit it is not likely, then you are admitting the established science is probably correct.

I don't like wearing seat belts, but there is no question in my mind the science supports their use. I could sit there and pretend the science does not, but that would conflict with other values I hold.

Generally, moves which require agility should not be done

In your craft, I think you'll find that they don't really want you doing things which require agility to do successfully. Think about a 65 year old obese worker who's sedentary other than this job, and close to retirement. Should that guy be doing that move? Then neither should you.

Any competent employer in your craft will favor safety over speed - because they've tried the other thing, or seen the fate of others who tried the other thing. If you are in a safety conscious shop, count your lucky stars - because the other kind is awful, and can and will get you maimed.

Everybody goes "If I die, I won't care then" but they don't think about being maimed.

6
  • 23
    The last point is particularly salient. If I have learned anything about safety in 20 years in heavy industry, it's that the best way to avoid getting hurt is to do things slowly, with great consideration, and using all available tools. Anything requiring agility, strength, balance, or flexibility is going to get you hurt. Save that stuff for the gym/ballfield.
    – Joel Keene
    Commented Oct 23, 2022 at 16:07
  • 10
    @JoelKeene Exactly, if there's a real risk of serious injury by slipping and falling off a ladder, sounds like something is really badly wrong with OP's workplace. Perhaps those ladders should be replaced by staircases with proper handrails, or the ladders should have those safety cages around them, or OP should be wearing a harness. Thus either OP is grossly overestimating the risk, or Health&Safety is not doing their job properly.
    – TooTea
    Commented Oct 23, 2022 at 18:39
  • 15
    "Dunning & Kruger...determined the bottom cohort in a skill area are pretty much un-educatable" - no, they did not. Quite the opposite, in fact! The paper specifically addresses what happened when bottom-cohort subjects were trained, beginning at section 4.4.3, and concludes: "Once we taught bottom-quartile participants how to solve Wason selection tasks correctly, they also gained the metacognitive skills to recognize the previous error of their ways...once they gained the metacognitive skills to recognize their own incompetence, they were no longer incompetent".
    – G_B
    Commented Oct 24, 2022 at 1:10
  • 2
    Some of the things I see people do, followed by "if it works, it isn't stupid" comments, are suggestive of someone who survived a round of Russian Roulette. "Just a click, no big deal!" Commented Oct 24, 2022 at 22:49
  • 7
    In the early 1970s I had a good biker friend who opposed the then forthcoming UK law requiring motorcycle riders to wear crash helmets. So did his wife. They said it took away their 'freedom'. They were that kind of biker - "Ride free" etc. Three months before the law came in on June 1st, 1973, they were in a collision at 30 mph with a car that pulled out without the driver looking properly. She died of head injuries, and he had brain damage and needed a wheelchair and lifelong care. Most of his 'ride free' pals got helmets after that. My helmet saved my life the following year. Commented Oct 25, 2022 at 9:50
47

Consider asking to be allowed to wear alloy- or titanium-toed boots which are lighter and offer similar or better protection. In addition, you can also get lighter shoes that do have toe caps. Ensure any shoe you decide to go with complies with the standards.

The safety standards exist for a reason, and these blanket rules exist for a reason.

You should never be at the risk of falling when climbing a ladder due to additional weight. Maintain 3 points of contact at all times.

Failure to follow safety procedures may mean you are not covered by work insurance.

3
  • Don't forget that you are going to have to pay for those special boots. Commented Oct 22, 2022 at 16:02
  • 16
    @DJClayworth May have to pay for the difference between what it costs and would have costs. I figured that because the OP is so concerned about their safety, it's a price worth paying! Commented Oct 22, 2022 at 16:29
  • 6
    "Maintain 3 points of contact" is the real answer here. It's not about the boots. If the boots increase the risk of falling, then there already was a risk and this risk should be addressed first.
    – Jeffrey
    Commented Oct 24, 2022 at 14:35
31

I can't even imagine any scenarios where my feet could possibly get hurt due to the lack of foot protection

You are climbing ladders. You are working on equipment. Unless all you do is climb ladders to flip switches or change light bulbs, you will be using tools. It doesn't take a very heavy tool dropped on a foot to cause problems.

I am not sure when I started wearing steel-toed shoes. Many, many years ago. Not required by any job. But even doing IT stuff such as cabling and and moving servers, I am sure that my shoes have saved me from at least minor problems, if not major problems, over the years.

At least a decade ago I switched to composite toe shoes, as they are lighter, don't set off airport and other security metal detectors, and are somewhat more comfortable. The ones I currently wear are listed as:

  • ASTM F2413-11 M I/75 C/75 EH composite safety toe

While people and organizations often refer generically to "steel-toed shoes", what they typically require is a specific performance specification and don't care whether that is via steel or composite.

Everyone else in my family worries about dropping even small stuff (e.g., canned goods) on their toes, and they worry about bumping their toes into furniture, boxes, etc. With my shoes on, I just don't worry about my toes - they're well protected.

3
  • 4
    The first paragraph I think gets to the core of why it's entirely likely the safety protection is in place - if you drop tools onto your feet while you're on a ladder, the pain in that foot seems probable to cause a reaction that does make the situation more unsafe than if you can ignore the falling tool because you can't feel it hit your toes. Commented Oct 23, 2022 at 19:53
  • 4
    "It doesn't take a very heavy tool dropped on a foot to cause problems." In fact, all it would take would be to accidently drop that ladder the OP is trying to parkour off of (agility-based movement indeed) on their toes to have broken toes and being out of work/fired.
    – CGCampbell
    Commented Oct 24, 2022 at 13:49
  • 1
    +1 Because getting non-steel but certified safety shoes solves the 'heavy shoes' issue while keeping everything else the same. If at all possible go for this.
    – AVee
    Commented Oct 24, 2022 at 21:14
30

Quit whining, and wear your safety shoes

Wear them a lot, get used to wearing them, they will in time become as innocuous as slippers.

Personal experience

I had to start wearing steel toed flight boots when I started flight training (over 40 years ago). The ones issued then were way less comfortable than similar shoes made now.

I wanted to have that profession, so I sucked it up and wore them, each day.
A few months into it, my 'it feels wrong' sensation had vanished.
It got to the point that when we went deer hunting, I'd wear my flight boots. Why? They were the best combination of comfort and protection that I owned.

You will adapt.
You need to adapt.
Why?

  1. Your toes are important parts of your feet. Protect them.
  2. You want this job.

Shop around, get ones that feel better

I am now over 60 years old, and I have worked in an industrial environment for over a decade. I still wear steel toed safety shoes. But I have learned that there are some options that allow me to 'tweak' my choice of footwear.

I went to the local Redwing store and got a pair that felt better than others. I think I tried half a dozen different brands/styles.
If you don't mind dipping into your own pocket, check out the local vendors of work shoes in your area and get a pair that 'feel' just right. I'd suggest you contact the safety pros at your place of employment and ask about reimbursement, or partial reimbursement, options.

Your feet, as you rightly express in your post, are important to your feeling well and your safety. Take care of them.

11
  • 2
    Yeah I started wearing them in a factory and later forestry... now I work in an office and still wear them.
    – Kilisi
    Commented Oct 23, 2022 at 10:58
  • 1
    "Your toes are important parts of your feet. Protect them." as in their important to simply standing up and walking
    – CGCampbell
    Commented Oct 24, 2022 at 13:52
  • 2
    @Kat will you be flying off of aircraft carriers? Commented Oct 25, 2022 at 0:45
  • 1
    +1 for the pointer to Redwing shoe stores. When I needed to get a pair of 'work' boots, the staff was wonderful about answering my questions and taking tiime to find the proper shoes & proper fit. Good stuff. Commented Oct 25, 2022 at 15:09
  • 1
    @manassehkatz-Moving2Codidact FWIW, I'd still consider the noise cancelling head phones PPE you'd want/need for any kind of flying, even in civil aviation. Commented Oct 25, 2022 at 17:07
16

You need to speak up. Yes, but not necessarily to your manager.

Ask for advice from your colleagues doing the same kind of work you're doing (or that did this work previously). Tell them your concerns. The old timers will be able to recommend some good shoe types and shoe brands, and where you can buy them for the most reasonable price. Most likely, they'll be expensive, but if you can afford them, it's something you should consider buying.

Also, if you can survive the first week or the first couple of weeks, your body will adapt. I can promise you that. In fact, that's probably what the old timers will tell you as well.

Just wear normal shoes, and not tell anyone. I think it is highly unlikely anyone would ever check if I were wearing the right shoes and highly unlikely I'd get injured to the lack of them.

If it's their job to notice, they will notice.

Don't be that guy.

14

I wholeheartedly agree with @Harper's answer, and several other answers.

I have a slightly different perspective as someone who is responsible for the safety of others in a very hazardous industry, and one who, 20+ years ago attended the funeral of an employee who was killed on the job and for whom I failed my responsibility to not let that happen.

Various PPE might not be required by all workers at all times. It is impossible, though, to manage all the different combinations and permutations of the workers, tasks, hazards, and PPE to the individual task, individual worker level.

So employers balance risk. There is risk in every activity and PPE minimizes but does not eliminate that risk.

There might be some very rare risk for very few workers in very few circumstances associated with using the PPE. Accommodating those risks, though, generally exposes more workers to more risks, especially considering the human factors so eloquently described by @Harper. (I grew up in the time some cars didn't have seat belts and folks argued fervently about seat belt mandates with the "what if the car catches fire and the seat belt jams?" excuse)

I'd add to @Harper, though, that even the most conscientious worker with the best intentions can forget to put on or take off any PPE, so it can be best to mandate "all times". One time of forgetting PPE can result in a for-the-rest-of-your-life loss of quality of life, if not life, itself.

It's great to ask the question to your supervisor and/or safety professional. But the next step is to recognize that in all likelihood you may not be the supervisor or saftey professional, and that you most likely do not know all the factors involved in the decision to mandate any PPE, or you'd be the supervisor or safety professional.

Your and your co-workers lives and health are best served by respecting that no one of us knows as much as all of us, and that rules are generally crafted by "more of us" than your or any one person's individual preferences.

Every safety rule is written in blood. Please don't ever forget that.

2
  • 4
    PS: the deceased employee had PPE at his side that could have saved his life. It wasn't the only contributing factor, but it could have made the difference.
    – pdtcaskey
    Commented Oct 24, 2022 at 11:01
  • 2
    Some of it is just: the supervisor has a job to do. Tracking "Fred isn't wearing the right PPE for being over there, I must go stop him", times however many employees, would be a huge pain and distraction from getting the job done that the company hired all those (expensive) people to do. Commented Oct 24, 2022 at 22:45
8

I recommend talking to the safety coordinator to have them evaluate your particular job duties and work area. A blanket "steel-toed boots must be worn" may be inappropriate for your situation, in which case you might get it replaced with a restriction such as "stay out of the heavy-machinery area". (Or you might not, in which case, ask if there's a lighter-weight alternative that meets the safety requirements.)

In a previous job I had, there was a blanket "safety glasses must be worn outside the office area" policy. This made sense for places like the chem lab or the machine shop, where something might get in your eye. It didn't make sense for the mechanical-test lab, where anything that got in your eye would likely continue through and lodge in your brain, while the safety glasses made it harder to perform some of the measurements needed. After a safety evaluation, the requirement for safety glasses was replaced with shielding around the test fixtures.

1
  • 2
    Reminds me of the line "the goggles do nothing".
    – DKNguyen
    Commented Oct 22, 2022 at 20:52
8

I wear a pair of safety shoes daily.

It is not because my work requires them. It doesn't, in fact I work in an office and from home. Whenever I could benefit from my safety shoes it is because of my lifestyle and my hobbies and not because of my work.

I just like these shoes. They are comfortable and I like stepping wherever I feel like stepping. They are not heavier or bulkier than the other shoes I use. They are particularly good at subway stations.

Of course, my shoes were not obtained from the lowest bidder.

The conclusion is, buy yourself a pair of better safety shoes. Just ask about the safety grade required for your work (there ARE grades). You may or may not be able to get your employer pay for them, but buy and use them anyway.


The safety regulations are written in blood. Arguing with them is pointless. Proving the rules wrong when the stake is your health and your life is pointless. You are wrong and the rules are right.

If your work involves extensive climbing, chances are you need more and not less personal protection equipment.

2
  • 2
    Good answer; and it fits my experience and that of my co workers. 😊 Commented Oct 23, 2022 at 12:38
  • 4
    I also wear my steel-toed shoes as regular day-to-day footwear. They weren't expensive either - I just needed to look around a little to find ones which fitted. One less-recognised fact there is that the slightly heavier shoes give your legs and ankles a bit more of a workout. After a few months, your legs will have adjusted to them feeling normal - and then your running shoes will feel like a magic carpet ride. :) But even before that, if the OP is having problems climbing ladders then I submit that the problem is that the OP isn't good at climbing ladders, not the shoes.
    – Graham
    Commented Oct 23, 2022 at 16:58
8

Wear your safety shoes! No question. Don't go for your option 3.

However, discuss the possibility of using lighter shoes with carbon fibre/kevlar toecaps with the safety/ppe management team. Provided they meet the required (official) safety standards, they might be amenable to such a suggestion. You might have to contribute towards them yourself of course!

I wore safety shoes for 30+ years in manufacturing - you'll get used to them, and they will one day save you from injury.

1

I would opt for transparency at work in case anything was to happen.

Speak to a safety director about your concerns, this person could potentially point out some risks you didn't realize or could help you come up with an alternative.

If any "almost accidents" happened due to the boots, I would also bring these up to whomever you speak to.

1

You're not less safe because you use heavier boots. Most likely you'll simply gain some more leg strength, as legs are major muscles which adapt quickly. Eat more protein and enjoy your feet.

3
  • 1
    This answer is not exactly adding anything
    – AsheraH
    Commented Oct 25, 2022 at 19:21
  • it's very short
    – user136846
    Commented Oct 25, 2022 at 20:33
  • 2
    It's a short answer, but it is correct. The shoes will add an incredibly marginal amount of weight. Commented Oct 26, 2022 at 1:13
1

Inadequate or unsuitable use of PPE in a hazardous environment can have grave consequences.

Read the series of questions by @Tina_Sea for what can happen. Witnessing death of colleague and chemical burn for the OP

Then perhaps you can reconsider.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .