Your feet bear the brunt of your daily working life. Prolonged standing, walking, operating machinery, high heels, falling objects and slipperysurfaces are just some of the dangers we expose our feet to in the workplace.
Every year 2 million sick days are lost due to lower limb disorders and many of these sick days could be prevented by simply wearing the right shoe for the job or by following an appropriate daily foot care routine.
The environment in which we work can also impact on foot comfort such as the type of floor we stand on. Wooden floors tend to have some ‘give’ which is much more forgiving than tiled, concrete or marble floors.
It is not unusual for problems to arise within the foot, lower leg and back as a result of working on hard unyielding surfaces for long periods especially if you are also wearing a hard soled shoe with no shock absorption.
Work related foot problems
Standing for long periods may cause pain or discomfort to the feet, ankles, knees and hips, as well as to the back and neck. Standing for long periods in unsuitable footwear may exacerbate any underlying problem you may have with your joints, increasing the rate at which arthritic changes take place.
Accidents at work
Unprotected feet are at risk from accident and injury such as puncture wounds, crushing and laceration, sprained ankles, chemical burns, fractures and even amputations.
Tips for working feet
Wear shoes that are appropriate for your job and suitable for your workconditions.
Different occupations have different footwear requirements. Caterers and nurses, for example, may simply need a good-fitting supportive shoe with an enclosed toe box for protection, but a builder will require safety footwear with a steel toecap.
Wear safety footwear if the job requires or recommends it.
Wear shoes that fit properly, allowing your toes about 1cm gap between the longest toe and end of shoe. This also applies to footwear with steel toecaps toes are vulnerable if they’re being squashed against steel.
For women who want to wear heels, stick to a heel height of around 4cm for everyday footwear, and do daily calf stretching exercises. If you’re on your feet constantly, reduce heel height to 2cm.
Vary heel height from day to day.
Wear shoes with a strap or lace over the instep rather than slip-ons. This will stop your foot sliding forward, rather like a seat belt does in a car.
Always have two pairs of shoes on the go, alternating on a daily basis so that sweat can dry out properly. Damp shoes each morning are the perfect environment for athlete’s foot and the bacteria that causes smelly feet.
Safety footwear such as protective toecaps can prevent toes being crushed.
Where slips can occur – wear slip resistant soles.
If there is a danger from nails or sharp objects wear puncture resistant soles.
Adopt a regular foot care regime to keep your feet in good condition.
The right shoe for the job
Regardless of your workplace: warehouse, airport, shop, office or even at home – comfortable, properly fitted footwear is essential to maintaining good foot health.
Many minor foot ailments can be relieved with properly fitted and carefully selected shoes. In many workplaces, safety shoes are necessary to protect against environmental risks, but they also need to be comfortable and correctly fitted.
There is a misconception that safety shoes, especially protective toecaps will be uncomfortable, but if the shoes are padded and fitted correctly, you should not be able to feel the toecaps at all.
Choosing the best safety shoes
What to look for:
- Upper. Made from natural materials such as leather or a breathable man-made fabric. Some leather has a plastic coating to repel water and allow the shoe to be wiped clean.
- Lining. Breathable material keeps the foot fresh; they need to be smooth and seam-free.
- Toe area. Should be foot-shaped and deep enough to prevent rubbing and allow the toes to wiggle. This is especially important with protective toecaps. If the shoes are padded and fitted properly, you should not be able to feel the toecaps at all.
- Insole. Preferably removable to allow easy insertion of padding or orthoses.
- Heel fit. The heel should fit snugly on the foot, stopping the heel slipping out of the shoe and stabilise the foot upon ground contact.
- Heel. Should have a broad base, no higher than 4cm. If worn for long stretches, should be no more than 2cm in height.
- Sole. Should be strong and flexible with good shock absorption to cushion the jolts of walking on hard surfaces. Material should be slip resistant, such as rubber, polyurethane or PVC.
- Fastenings. Laces, buckles or Velcro help to secure the foot in the shoe.