‘Slipp-R’ Safety Toes Case Study


Courtesy of Safetytoes International Inc

The European footwear industry has been under siege from low-cost manufacturers abroad.  Fortunately, standards are in place to ensure 'cheap' does not mean 'less' when it comes to workplace safety.  Safety footwear coming into the European markets must meet or exceed the minimum requirements for toe and foot protection as laid out in the CE standards.  This is good news for European manufacturers who have been forced to look for cheaper solutions to help manage their costs. 
A product that should be of great interest to them is the steel toe overshoe.  Launched in 2006, and CE Approved by SATRA, the ‘Slipp-R’ is a safety overshoe that provides the same level of toe protection as a safety shoe or boot.  While products of this type have been around for some time, they have been slow to acceptance due to a lack of standard covering them.  If a piece of safety footwear doesn't have a CE Mark, safety professionals tend to steer clear of them.  This of course ensures a continued revenue stream for safety boot and safety shoe manufacturers.  However, in many cases this too can lead to cost inefficiencies that we can no longer afford.
Occupational health and safety rules and regulations, it must be remembered, cover workers only.  The standards they dictate do not cover visitors to a manufacturing facility for example.  Also, the standards for Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) are not intended to eliminate workplace hazards, only mitigate the personal injury due to an accident.  It is common now for standards bodies to preach the gospel of hazard removal instead of more PPE.  This makes sense since it is reasonable to expect employees to navigate unexpected hazards.  But, it is unreasonable to expect employees to 'foot' the bill for constant total protection when hazards are meant to be temporary or irregular.  There exist many situations where an alternative to a safety boot would suffice. 
Employees travelling through a safety zone where they perform no actual work is one.  Provided there is no risk from sharp objects underfoot, why impose a safety boot?  Temporary employees working in safety zones, where the risk assessment is low, may only need toe protection.  Is it reasonable to ask them to step into old safety boots?  Workers who sit on assembly or packaging lines are exposed to limited and irregular risk.  Should we expect them to carry the full burden of a safety boot?      
CE does not endorse products.  It simply establishes standards, leaves the testing to others but exposes employers to risk for any lack of protection.  There is free will in the system and there is discretion allowed.  A review of examples used in communicating the need for PPE indicates that hazards are only meant to be temporary.  PPE in itself must not be relied upon to eliminate risks; only the removal of the hazard will do that.  Unfortunately, there are few references to the correct use of PPE for temporary protection.  The types of situations where PPE may be advisable refer predominantly to protecting against obvious long term hazards requiring hardhats, ear plugs, goggles and such like.  Where temporary use is mentioned the reference is to the importance of wearing PPE at all times when risk is apparent.  For example, ear plugs must be worn at all times in situations that dictate use because even a short period without them can greatly diminish the benefits of wearing them.  In this case wearing ear plugs is mandatory and little, if any, discretion is allowed.  The situation is entirely different for an office employee paying a short visit to a loading dock or shipping office.  Since the journey through a safety zone is short and along a hazard-free route temporary use of PPE is acceptable.  That's where the story about stepping into safety boots used by others all started.
Any PPE policy should recognise that selected items must encourage wear.  If the ear plugs make the wearer look silly then it's less likely they will be worn as frequently as if they were fashionable. The same is true for footwear.   Allowing the employee some input in choosing PPE is another good idea.  A piece of safety attire that minimises discomfort is a good thing.  In work situations, such as maintenance and cleaning activities where the use of PPE is essential, having some choice over styles and comfort helps motivate workers.

OSHA statistics from the USA tells us that most injuries to the foot were incurred while workers were not wearing any PPE.  Further, most of their employers did not require appropriate protection.  The typical foot injury was caused by objects falling fewer than four feet and the median weight was 65 pounds.  Again, most workers were injured while performing their normal job activities at their worksites. 
The ‘Slipp-R’ steel toe cap overshoe is a very affordable solution for temporary protection against hazards in the industrial world.  Lower operating costs and higher safety standards can co-exist with the use of safety toe overshoes.  European goods manufacturers are constantly being challenged to do both.

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