Keen Utility Flint Ii Men's 1023237 Ss20 5 C8 A0813 V2

Materials Innovations Drive Footwear Safety

Sept. 16, 2020
Modern manufacturing safety practices start from the ground up.

Proper safety footwear is a requirement in most manufacturing settings to help protect employees from a myriad of jobsite accidents including slips, trips, falls, and impact injuries to feet and toes. Just as we’ve seen significant advances in modern manufacturing practices through technology and innovation, the world of personal protective equipment (PPE) is continually making advancements in materials and performance technologies to improve fit and safety. 

Sporty Silhouettes for Indoor Work

Trends in athletic footwear and apparel have made their way not only into lifestyle and urban wear but also in the world of work. Thanks to innovative upper materials and continual advancements in underfoot support and cushioning compounds, newly designed safety footwear styles for indoor work shoes, and even boots, can now deliver a sportier aesthetic often sought after by the younger workers coming into the trades or those who seek a lighter more cushioned step. Most workers seeking this style are often in constant motion or standing on unforgiving, hard cement surfaces all day and truly require lightweight safety shoes that can deliver all-day support and comfort. Low-cut, sneaker style work shoes offer protection in indoor environments, and their more athletic outsoles and textile uppers are well-suited in fast-paced environments. Newer tread designs offer siping which is designed to divert liquids quickly and maximize surface area contact to provide enhanced grip and traction, often exceeding Mark II and Satra anti-slip standard ratings. Sporty nylon and synthetic mesh uppers are non-marring, a common ask for some assembly and manufacturing environments like automotive where a scratch on the finished paint is detrimental, and they offer greater breathability while still providing optimal underfoot support needed for long hours on the manufacturing floor. Textile uppers usually offer a variety of colorways and patterns over the more traditional safety footwear within this space.

Materials Made to Innovate

Comfort and safety are critical partners when it comes to protective footwear, where long hours standing and moving can lead to foot fatigue, knee, hip, and back pain as well as a variety of other physical stressors that can impact productivity and alertness on the job. Today’s footwear manufacturers have taken a lead from the athletic world and began designing responsive materials for insoles, midsoles, and outsoles that help absorb impact, cushion feet and provide an overall more comfortable fit and wear experience. These new advances in cushioning help work boots feel more like street shoes, again bridging the gap for young workers who are used to wearing sneaker-styles in their everyday lives. New underfoot technologies like KEEN Utility’s KEEN.ReGEN performance cushioning midsole offers 50% energy return with every step to help the worker keep moving more effortlessly throughout long-days where walking and standing are constant factors on the job.

Toe Protection and Beyond

Until recent years, the perception of a safety boot was often rooted in the inclusion of a safety toe cap, and oftentimes one made of steel. Many of today’s footwear manufacturers have worked to innovate materials used for safety toes while still satisfying the production and testing standards established by the American Society of Testing Materials (ASTM). While steel is still a viable and excellent option for toe caps, we see design innovations such as asymmetrical shapes to cut bulk and customize the fit for the left and right feet ensuring every toe is protected. Each is designed to use materials like aluminum, composite, and carbon fiber which are lighter weight than steel and offer other performance benefits. For example, composite toe caps are metal-free, 15% lighter than steel, and may be excellent options in environments where workers cannot wear metal or have to walk through metal detectors regularly.

Fit Matters—Especially for Women

At my company, we often say “fit matters.” Safety footwear and other PPE should be viewed as another tool on the job and fit is critical to safety and performance. Women are a category of workers long underserved when it comes to proper fitting PPE as well as accessibility to the same variety and options as their male colleagues. Manufacturers today are putting more focus into providing additional women’s safety footwear options. Building each either on a women’s-specific last or designing it from the outsole up to fit the different biomechanics of a woman’s foot, they are made to be more comfortable and safer.  It’s important to note that building footwear specifically for tradeswomen doesn’t mean lack of durability; they are designed and developed with the same quality of leathers, stitching and materials as men’s safety footwear making sure that each boot built for women will withstand the work environments they are meant to perform in, so she can focus on doing the job at hand versus worrying about her feet.  Women in work should always look for a safety solution built for their anatomy and luckily, more brands are moving in that direction.

Understanding and Innovation

In today’s fast-moving world, innovation and forward-thinking drive success—no matter the industry. The advancements in materials used in the design and development of PPE including safety footwear is all part of the greater equation in providing the best fitting, performance safety products on the market today.  Each new innovation added to PPE is directly related to feedback from the hard-working tradeswomen and men who are asking for better performance, comfort, and safety.  Together we are able to continually reach new heights in PPE manufacturing and fit to help shape the next level of safety for generations to come.