Safety Boots with steel toe cap

With a dizzying variety of safety footwear on the market, deciding which footwear is right for your workforce can be a real struggle. After all, no two sites are the same, and neither are the requirements that we place on our work boots.

So, to help you navigate the world of marketing jargon, abbreviations, technical codes and classifications, we’ve put together this beginners buying guide, so you can make the right choices when it comes to your on-site footwear.

PPE Regulations

Under the current UK regulation – Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) at Work Regulation 1992, employers are required to provide PPE to employees who may be exposed to a risk to their health and safety. 

Accompanying this, Section 9 of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974, states that employers must provide PPE to the worker at no cost.

Whilst that’s great news for employees, it can mean plenty of headaches if you don’t know what you should be buying.

Understanding Different Levels of Protection

When you’re buying safety footwear, it’s essential to ensure they’re safe in more than just name. To do that means having a general understanding of the various standards used for describing safety footwear.

Here in the UK, that generally means looking at the European test standards written into EN ISO 20344:2011. These are:

  • EN ISO 20345:2011 for Safety Footwear: A minimum standard of 200 joules impact resistance (equivalent to a 20kg weight dropped 1020mm onto the toes), and a 15KN compression test (equivalent to 1.5 tonnes resting on the toe area).
  • EN ISO 20346:2004 for Protective Footwear: A lesser standard of 100 joules impact resistance, and a 10KN compression test.
  • EN ISO 20347:2004 for Occupational Footwear: Can have many of the features of safety and/or protective footwear but without the safety toecap, and therefore not recommended for on-site usage.

Once tested and certified, the footwear will carry the CE mark, so look out for this when you’re sourcing safety footwear.

The Types of Safety Boots Available

There are numerous styles of safety footwear available to the modern buyer, including:

  • Safety boots: The most common type of safety footwear available, in a classic boot style. They often include toecaps, slip-resistant soles, penetration-resistant midsoles and insulation against weather extremes. Both, steel toe caps and composite caps are available.
  • Wellington boots: Typically used on worksites where chemicals are being used or water is an issue, wellington boots are a solid, waterproof option.
  • Safety shoes: Like work safety boots, though with less ankle support and protection. They are often lighter.
  • Riggers: Looking somewhere between a boot and a wellington? These mid-shin boots are a popular on-site option and are common in a number of trades. They often feature toecaps.
  • Safety trainers: Styled to look like trainers, these are often purchased for aesthetic purposes, but serve much the same role as safety shoes.

Safety Footwear Abbreviations Guide

When shopping for safety shoes and boots you’ll see abbreviations tagged onto their ratings (explained in the next section). The list below outlines the most common abbreviations you’ll come across, and what they mean:

  • P: Penetration Resistance
  • C: Conductive
  • A: Antistatic
  • I: Electricity Insulating Footwear
  • E: Energy Absorption
  • HI: Insulation Against Heat
  • CI: Insulation Against the Cold
  • WR: Water Resistance
  • M: Metatarsal Protection
  • AN: Ankle Protection
  • CR: Cut Resistant Upper
  • WRU: Water Penetration and Water Absorption Upper
  • HRO: Outsole Resistance to Hot Contact
  • FO: Fuel Oil-Resistant Outsole

Safety Boot Ratings Explained

To gauge the level of protection or safety standard a particular work boot carries, look out for a two or three letter code within its name or description. As a basic requirement, safety footwear for site work must have a 200-joule toe cap. This, for example, is called ‘Safety Basic’ (SB). However, there are a variety of other safety standards that footwear can include.

Here’s a breakdown of safety boot codes used in the UK:

  • SB: Safety Basic, 200 joules Toe Protection, Oil Resistant outer sole. This is the minimum requirement for safety shoes.
  • SBP: Safety Basic plus penetration resistance of the Mid-Sole.
  • S1: On top of the basic toe protection, S1 has anti-static properties and a fully enclosed energy absorbing heel area.
  • S1P: As S1 plus penetration resistance of the Mid-Sole.
  • S2: Same properties as S1, plus resistance to water penetration and absorption.
  • S3: Same protection as S2, plus Mid-Sole for penetration resistance and cleated outsole
  • S4: 200 joules Toe Protection, all rubber or polymer construction (waterproof) e.g. wellington boots, Anti-Static properties and Energy Absorbing heel area.
  • S5: Same properties as S4, plus Mid-Sole for penetration resistance and cleated outsole.

Standards for slip-resistant shoes

Anti-slip footwear is vital in workplaces where the risk of falling, tripping, or slipping is heightened. Did you know slips in the workplace now make up over a third of all serious work-related injuries? It’s no wonder that slip-resistant footwear is becoming more and more requested on site. 

When you come to buy nonslip boots and shoes, you’ll notice that they have their own standards. These are:

  • SRA: Tested on ceramic tile wetted with diluted soap solution
  • SRB: Tested on smooth steel with glycerol
  • SRC: Tested under SRA and SRB conditions 

Related blog: What are the most comfortable work boots?

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