Toe Caps

Toe Caps

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Toe caps hinder more than help when worn as industrial personal protective equipment. These cup-like covers designed to wear over dress shoes are made of hard reinforced plastic and/or steel. They were carelessly adopted as a “quick fix” to foot protection in response to the July 5, 1994 “OSHA 1910.136 Foot Protection” ruling. This standard states that all hazards in the workplace must be identified. Employees and visitors must wear appropriate personal protective equipment to protect against these hazards.

A misunderstood concept continues to thrive throughout industry promoting the fallacy that because toe caps cover toes the same as safety shoes, they provide the same level of protection. This is not true. They are unstable, painful and create as many hazards as they are supposed to protect.

If the cap fit is loose, shifting from side to side, safety and protection is severely compromised. A female vendor visiting the maintenance department was asked to wear toe caps. Even after choosing the smallest toe caps available, the vendor had difficulty keeping the caps in place on the front of her size-six shoes. She managed a few unsteady steps before the cap on her right shoe swung left causing her to trip over her own foot. The scene was reminiscent of a small child wearing his or her mother’s over-sized high heels. Yes, it is possible to walk, but the whole experience is unsteady and unsafe.

Protective footwear must permit unencumbered movement in the work environment. On-site contractors work in various environments requiring multiple physical challenges including climbing up and down steep steps and ladders. Most often, the largest of toe caps are too small on an average contractor’s shoes. Not only is the fit very uncomfortable, but the caps pinch the tip of their shoes, and extend dangerously out in a Bozo-the-Clown “flip-flop” fashion. This very poor footing makes it dangerous to complete even the simplest of everyday functions.

The National Safety Council wrote in their “Foot Protection” pamphlet that in order for foot protection to function properly, it must be the right size for your foot and not hurt. Recently, executives visited the Owings Mills site and requested a tour of the manufacturing facility. They were given universal fitting toe caps to wear. After a few minutes, the executives abruptly ended the tour stating the caps were not only ruining their shoes, but also cutting into the tops of their feet.

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Even OSHA agrees it is unforgiving and illegal to wear personal protective equipment that creates hazards as dangerous as those it was designed to eliminate. Ill-fitting toe caps create a multitude of tripping hazards. The tripping hazard in itself becomes the greater risk when weighed against the odds of a falling object hitting the toes in the exact spot where the toe cap rests. Furthermore, steel-toed caps may create sparks by hitting metal against metal or concrete. Sparks are dangerous when working around flammable raw materials often found throughout industry. Remember, the real reason for using protective footwear is to provide protection against getting hurt, not just to satisfy an OSHA ruling.

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