Safety Footwear 101

How technology has changed the landscape of safety footwear and what you need to know to find the right pair

Moreover, advances in chemistry and chemical engineering have allowed boot developers to fine tune the performance characteristics of outsoles so that there is a more focused match between outsole performance and function or customer preference.


A steel cap has been and remains the mainstay of all kinds of footwear that require safety toes.

When it comes to protecting the toe area from a sudden blow (like a heavy box falling) or a protracted compression (toes pinned under a heavy pallet), there are few affordable materials that can meet, let alone exceed, the strength, resilience and elasticity of steel. It remains the safety toe of choice for most people.

Safety caps that are forged from aluminum alloys or thermo-formed from resins and fiberglass composites are, however, challenging the dominance of the steel cap. These new options respond to the one drawback of steel caps: although they are durable and dependable, they are comparatively heavy.

Aluminum and composite caps can be significantly lighter than comparable steel caps. However, there are drawbacks to these lighter options.

In order to meet the performance standards of steel these non-steel alternatives have to be made bigger and thicker. This can make the shoes look bigger in the toe, and can create challenges to proper and comfortable fit.

Aluminum and composite toes are also more expensive than steel. However, with improvements in the cost and performance of non-steel caps (especially in composite caps), the trend away from steel is growing and gaining momentum.


Tried and true materials - leather, rubber and steel - have earned their solid reputation in the work footwear market with years of proven performance. However, their new challengers - synthetics, PU/TPU/EVA and composite/aluminum - offer their own set of advantages.

What's best depends on individual safety and comfort needs. The best may be a combination that leverages the best characteristics of each material.

Choosing the right footwear starts with knowing what your needs are, and understanding how they could be met. In a market continually evolving, there are more and more features to examine.

Among work boot features to consider:

ASTM (American Society for Testing Materials) Certified: ASTM provides the standards for the protection required in safety footwear.

Steel-Toe: Offers the maximum toe protection from sudden impact or compression. Steel toes need to meet or exceed ASTM standard F2415-11.

Composite-Toe: Today's advances in safety technologies have created new forms of safety-toe protection. Modern composite toes are metal-free, lightweight and still satisfy ASTM standards.

Some brands even have proprietary technologies. Wolverine, for example, created Carbon Max, a non-metallic composite-toe that is resistant to heat and cold, non-conductive and lighter than traditional steel-toes while still satisfying ASTM safety standards.

Metatarsal Guard: A Metatarsal Guard, or Met-Guard, provides additional protection to the instep area. This guard is either permanently attached onto the exterior of the work shoe or can be built into the footwear itself (known as an Internal Met).

Static-Dissipating: Safety footwear worn in areas where the generation of static electricity could harm sensitive electrical equipment or ignite flammable materials needs to be electrostatic dissipating (ESD). This type of footwear allows small charges of static electricity to be continuously dissipated into the walking surface, thereby reducing the accumulation of potentially harmful levels of static electricity.

Electrical Hazard (EH): Safety footwear with an EH rating provides workers who may come in contact with live circuits, wires or highly charged electrical equipment with a secondary source of protection from electrical shock. Insulating properties stop a current from being grounded for any significant length of time.

Fiberglass Shank: A fiberglass shank is a lightweight option to the once traditional steel shank for arch support. Built under the arch, a fiberglass shank offers increased stability and durability without adding weight to the boot.

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