Are Your Work Boots Safe? The Evolution of Footwear Safety Standards

By Susan Finch

According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 23 percent of workers with foot-related injuries were wearing safety shoes or boots. You can greatly reduce your chance of an injury by selecting proper boots and protective wear. But it has only been in the last century that we have safety procedures and government oversight in place to protect from hazardous working conditions and injuries. As safety boots evolved, so did the evolution of other boots. From hiking boots to mountaineering boots, shoes are now made with comfort, durability and safety in mind. Such boots are usually made out of suede or light fabrics for flexible use and support. Mid-weight boots are made from more synthetic materials that hold up against great wear and tear and give your ankle and bridge plenty of support. While most shoes and recreational boots don’t have official safety standards, work boots and protective gear generally fall under oversight of the Occupational Safety & Health Act.

The History of Workplace Safety

After the Civil War, the United States saw factories and manufacturing spread to produce new goods and usher in a new economic era. But without any safety standards or protective wear mandates, dangerous machinery and hazardous chemicals were the norm. Local state labor bureaus in the late 1900s reported horrific deaths and injuries that ran rampant in the workplace. America’s laborers and workers needed more protection in the workplace to improve their long-term health and immediate safety.

The Occupational Safety & Health Act

In 1970, Richard Nixon signed the Williams-Steiger Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Act to give the Federal Government oversight to set safety and health standards for most U.S. workers. Without the Act, we might still be seeing record high accidents and deaths in the workplace. The Act brought consistent standards and mandatory inspection measures to keep employers accountable in providing a safe and healthful workplace. The Act also covers the requirement for personal protective equipment like helmets, hard-toed shoes, goggles and eye protection depending on the industry and workplace conditions.

Safety Boots 101

Steel-toed boots were first seen at the end of World War II. Invented in Germany, they are now required in some jobs and must undergo OSHA compliance and licensing before being sold. Some steel-toed boots are durable enough to protect against a chainsaw accident. Like the name implies, steel-toed boots are reinforced by steel but can also be made from composite materials. Such boots are also puncture resistant and can prevent injury from some electrical and chemical hazards. Safety wear has also expanded past boots into steel-enforced shoes and other footwear.

Selecting Safety Footwear

Preventing workplace injuries isn’t as simple as picking up a pair of work boots. In part, safety boots are designed with specific recommendations and standards from the Occupational Safety & Health Act. If foot protection is required at a job, the employer should set up a safety protection program to help determine the best selection and fit. For example, construction workers should select footwear that protects against their protective hazards like compression and cuts.

Susan Finch is a freelance writer with a passion for travel and helping small businesses find their online voice through content marketing, blogging and beyond. She is an eclectic writer with more than 10 years of experience contributing to guidebooks, magazines, iPhone apps, online publications and more. She can be found at

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