The most important consideration when deciding on shoe covers depends on the workplace environment you inhabit. As with most personal protective equipment (PPE), the type of item you use is first based on the potential hazard(s) you face during the work day.
If you are in the construction industry, your primary concern is usually the danger posed by either impact or compression of your feet and toes. Heavy building materials and motorized construction equipment can pose serious threats to your body, including your feet. You want either footwear or boot covers that include steel or other hard shell toe protection along with sturdy safeguards for your feet and ankles. Avoiding accident or injury through care and diligence is most important. But, situations will occur when proper safety shoe covers will protect you against direct compression threats.
Should you work in a medical, laboratory, clean room, chemical, or emergency response environment, the hazards you face are more diverse and complicated. Most often you will use disposable shoe covers which are gathered from a shoe cover dispenser on site. The two important considerations for you: What specific hazards do you face? What level of non-slip bottom protection do you need?
If you face liquid biohazards or other toxic substances, you want different safety shoe covers than if you face dry particulate threats. If the floor of your workplace is often covered with water or other non-toxic liquid, you'll need better non-skid protection using ribbed rubber or a similar design for the soles of your shoe or boot covers.
Therefore, know precisely what hazards you face. Then, make sure you use the best shoe covers that meet or exceed ANSI and OSHA standards for protection. When you are protected and comfortable, your workday will be much more pleasant and productive.
Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) and American National Standards Institute (ANSI) publish standards for all manner of personal protective equipment (PPE). In the realm of safety shoe covers, there are at least two distinct areas of foot protection that are mentioned. They are concerned with safeguarding the “impact and compression” of the foot in industrial and construction situations. The other major area surrounds safety in medical, industrial, and laboratory environments. However, unlike with most other PPE areas (eye, face, hands, etc.), both organizations are less precise regarding shoe and boot covers.
For instance, ANSI standard Z41-1983 provides standards for shoe protection but is primarily concerned with “impact and compression” of the foot. From steel toe shoes and protective shoe covers to other hard shell protection, ANSI recommends levels of safeguard depending on workplace situations.
OSHA concentrates more on workplace safety and predominantly recommends protection against spills, biohazards, toxins, water, electricity, and, to avoid industrial accidents, non-slip features. Another consideration, particularly in medical and clean room environments, is the integrity of the disposable shoe cover dispenser. For reasons that should be obvious but are often overlooked, for shoe covers to fulfill their objective of protection of the wearer, other people and objects, the shoe covers used must be contaminant free prior to wear. Dispensers, therefore, should be kept as clean as possible also.
When purchasing shoe covers, make sure the product carries the designation of ANSI- and/or OSHA-approved. The material, design, color, and other features will then be your choice for type of protection and comfort, while you are confident that ANSI and OSHA guidelines have also been met.
Shoe covers are recommended for a variety of work, sports, and medical situations. The type of safety shoe covers depends on the purpose and environment you are in. The key is to know what you need protection from and take the appropriate action to defend against the threat. Protective shoe covers are but one component in the personal protective equipment (PPE) universe.
If you work in a medical environment (hospital, laboratory, surgical facility, etc.), shoe covers are often required to protect you, your patients, your surroundings, and objects you may touch or that are in proximity. Using disposable or reusable (in some circumstances) shoe protection, medical personnel can protect themselves against spatters, liquid, and chemicals that may pose a danger. Also, using shoe or boot covers protects other people from receiving contaminants from you. Everyone wins.
Should you be involved in an industry that requires “clean” manufacturing conditions, as with computer chips and components, digital medical equipment, precise engineering instruments, etc., the danger becomes the contaminants you might transfer to sensitive objects. Clean rooms must remain as germ and contaminant free as surgical environments and safety shoe covers are an important component.
Industrial laboratories are often another environment that dictate the use of shoe covers. Often using potentially dangerous chemicals and other substances, protective shoe covers, sometimes waterproof, chemically resistant, dry particle protective, or toxic substance rejecters, are important. Made of appropriate materials that protect against the threats you face, they can safeguard against these hazards at low cost.
Certain sports activities are perfect for the use of shoe covers, particularly cycling. While your arms, back, and legs are stressed during high level cycling, nothing takes a worse pounding or abuse than your feet. Companies like Assos shoe covers offer a full line of covers and booties to protect your shoes from “road abuse” from rocks, mud, etc. and other hazards.
Rubber shoe covers provide you with two wonderful benefits that many others do not. First, they are almost totally waterproof. This is not in the revelation category. Even all baby boomers remember wearing rubber shoe covers or boots while walking to school – of course, it was always 2 miles, uphill both ways, and snowing or raining every day – and protecting their shoes from water. Natural rubber still protects the wearer from all types of liquids, particularly water.
Another, sometimes more significant benefit of rubber shoe covers is its refusal to conduct electricity. In situations that involve the possibility of active electrical current becoming a threat to you, rubber shoe covers are the best defense. Modern designs are lightweight, not heavy baby boomer models, and comfortable, even if worn for an entire workday. Whether in a wet environment, where the introduction of electrical current can quickly become deadly, or in dry conditions, wherein electricity can range from an annoyance to a life threatening situation, rubber safety shoe covers provide excellent protection.
Shoe covers are constructed from a variety of materials based on the desired protection level and the type of threats faced by the wearer. Both natural and synthetic materials are used successfully in both shoe and boot covers. Your choices should be based on the level of protective shoe covers you should use and your personal comfort.
Spunbond polypropylene makes an excellent medical shoe cover that is strong, skid-resistant, and disposable. This synthetic weave can take punishment and stay in place. A variant, poly-coated polypropylene, is excellent to protect you against spills and biohazards, while keeping you against slippage on a wet floor.
Waterproof barrier protection (WBP) is an interesting space age material that protects up to 99% against non-toxic liquids. Keep your shoes dry while working in the laboratory or industrial setting.
Tyvek, from DuPont, is the amazing material used for everything from U.S. Postal Service priority envelopes to protective siding on buildings to protective apparel. They also offer protective shoe covers that protect against many forms of dry hazards and particulates (dust, pollen, wood shavings, etc.) for footwear.
Plastic shoe covers are used for excellent liquid protection although most of the type of plastic material used is normally polypropylene. The advantage of using plastic is the ability to tailor the weight of this synthetic from ultra lightweight to super heavy duty, depending on the requirements of your job. Cost is either low or at worst reasonable so this substance is attractive to high volume users like hospitals and laboratories.
Medical shoe covers serve a variety of purposes in hospital, medical office, laboratory, surgical, and emergency response situations. Their first priority is protecting the wearer from potential hazards that may be generated by other people, objects, or general circumstances. A second priority is the protection of others from hazards that might emanate from the wearer. Their third priority is preventing contamination of the site by the wearer, who may have substances on his/her shoes that might prove damaging to the room or place involved.
Protective shoe covers fulfill their jobs in a variety of designs. If your environment faces dry contaminants or particles, Tyvek shoe covers are an excellent choice as they repel all manner of particulates successfully. If you could be exposed to bio-hazards in the form of spills, you might select safety shoe covers that provide strong external protection to pathogens while retaining a good non-slip surface underneath. Should you face dangerous but non-toxic liquid, shoe and boot covers with strong non-skid bottoms. Using different materials for different situations, medical and surgical shoe covers protect both wearer and patient from hazards present in various situations.
|Jennifer Mathes, Ph.D.|