Safety shoes are low shoes and boots that are used as protective clothing. They are prescribed, for example, by the employers’ liability insurance association in industry, in the trades, in the construction industry and in gardening and landscaping, as well as for the fire brigade, the technical relief organisation, the rescue service and the police; even cooks have to wear them.
Safety shoes are equipped with a protective cap made of metal or plastic in the front part of the shoe (between the lining and the outer shaft) to protect the toes. The upper material is usually leather and the shoe sole is made of rubber, polyurethane or thermoplastic elastomers. According to DGUV regulation 112-191 safety shoes, unlike work shoes, must have a protective toe cap; work shoes only have a protective component, but not necessarily a protective cap.
Category, protection and requirements
All in all, there are several standardized categories according to DGUV Rule 112-191 (formerly Occupational Safety and Health Regulation 191 or GUV-R 191):
- S – Safety shoes with 200 Joule tested toe cap according to EN ISO 20345:2011 resp. DIN EN 12568
- P – Protective footwear with 100 Joule tested toe cap according to EN ISO 20346:2011
- O – Work footwear without toecap in accordance with EN ISO 20347:2012
A steel, aluminium or plastic cap (extending to the root of the toe) is embedded in the toe of the shoe to protect the toe area against crushing by heavy objects falling on it (up to 100/200 joules). The toe cap, colloquially “steel cap”, is used in safety shoes and protective footwear. It protects the toes from injury, for example from falling objects, machines (cut-off grinders) or similar. The cap can be made of steel plate or materials such as plastic, aluminium or titanium. The resistance of a toe cap is given in joules. In the case of protective footwear, the cap must protect against mechanical impact of 100 J, and 200 J in the case of safety footwear. The category classifications O and P play a rather minor role in Germany. In industry, shoes with the classifications S2 and S3 are most frequently encountered.
|Toe cap||additional requirements met||Classification type|
|200 joules||100 joules||without||A||FO||E||P||WRU||WR||Outsole|
|SB||PB||OB||–||–||–||–||–||–||–||I – conventionally shaped|
|S4||–||O4||A||FO||E||–||WRU||WR||–||II – fully moulded or vulcanised|
- A – antistatic shoes: The specific volume resistance of the shoe is greater than or equal to105 ohms and less than or equal to108 ohms according to DIN EN 61340-4-3. When additionally wearing overshoes or overshoes (product protection in clean work areas or in the clean room), the limit value of108 Ohm is slightly exceeded.
- AN – ankle protection, minimum 20 kN
- C – conductive shoes
- CI – cold insulation (sample at -20 °C) at temperatures below 10 °C
- CR – Cut-resistant shank, factor greater than 2.5 – For use in forestry, cut protection shoes are available that offer special protection against cuts with chainsaws. The chainsaw cut protection according to DIN EN ISO 17249 defines three cut protection levels with regard to the chain speed 1 to 20 m/s, 2 to 24 m/s, 3 to 28 m/s
- E – Energy absorption in the heel area at least 20 joules
- ESD – Electrostatic Discharge – if the electrical continuity resistance of the system person-shoe-floor according to DIN EN 61340-5-1 (human in shoe on metal plate) is between 0.75 and 35 MOhm, depending on the climatic classes 1 (15 % r. LF), 2 (25 % r. LF), 3 (50 % r. LF) according to DIN EN 61340-4-3 (metal ball in shoe on metal plate).
- FO – oil and petrol resistant sole
- HI – Thermal insulation
- HRO – behaviour towards contact heat (heat resistance of the sole at 300 °C for at least 60 seconds without melting)
- I – electrical insulating footwear
- M – Midfoot protection, defined remaining height
- ORO – Oil Resistance Outsole – former designation, replaced by FO
- P – Puncture resistant sole, minimum 1100 Newton. It protects the sole of the foot from penetration injuries caused by nails and other sharp objects. The puncture-resistant sole is incorporated or inserted into the shoe. It is made of fabric or steel plate and complies with EN ISO standard 20344:2011 Modern soles are made of a technical fabric such as Kevlar, ParaAramide, Lenzi, Fibre-LS or similar, these are more comfortable to wear because they are more flexible, insulating against cold and heat. They also cover the entire insole, which is not the case with steel.
- SRA – Slip resistance – Test method: Ceramic with lubricant: H²O and detergent, greater than 0.32 on the sole of the shoe and greater than 0.28 on the heel of the shoe at an angle of inclination of 7°
- SRB – Slip resistance – Test method: Steel with lubricant glycerine, greater than 0.18 on the sole of the shoe and greater than 0.13 on the heel of the shoe at an angle of inclination of 7°
- SRC – SRA+SRB
- WG – Protection for small splashes of molten metal for welding work
- WR – resistance of the entire shoe to water penetration and water absorption, no water penetration during the first 15 minutes; within 30 min the water absorption is less than 2 g, after 100 extensions less than 3 cm³ of water penetration
- WRU – resistance of the upper part of the shoe to water penetration and water absorption, within 60 minutes maximum 30%
A friction-reducing material (usually felt, leather fibre or rubber) is embedded between the protective toe cap and the outer shaft, so that the shaft is not unnecessarily stressed in this area. The outsole is mostly made of well adhering PU, TPU or rubber compound and is strongly profiled.
The details of the shoe equipment result from the requirements in the respective field of work. For example, shoes for butchers should be largely waterproof, for electricians insulating, firefighters need shoes whose materials are largely flame-resistant and whose closure can be closed as quickly as possible (see picture: zipper that can additionally be adjusted by lacing).
Winter / Cold
Winter safety shoes are available for outdoor work in winter. These usually meet the minimum CI and SRC standards, and also WR or WRU. For example, a Thinsulate material or another abrasion-resistant synthetic fur is used for the inner lining, while the upper material consists of a hydrophobic or water-repellent smooth leather. The material, however, depends primarily on the protection class. For example, safety shoes in classes SB to S3 are made of leather or other materials, while shoes in classes S4 and S5 are fully moulded or vulcanised. This is because they are designed for areas with a lot of water and moisture.
Winter safety shoes are available with conventional steel toe caps and soles (inexpensive versions) or with aluminium or plastic toe caps or no-metal soles(better cold insulating protection).
Fire brigade / flammability
Firefighter safety footwear must meet certain requirements according to EN 15090:2012 and the accident prevention regulations (UVV). Shoes for emergency service must comply with the protection class EN 15090:2012. This standard contains further subdivisions.
In the case of firefighters, another feature is usually a quick-release fastener in the form of a zipper. The shaft width of such boots is adjusted once to the wearer by means of lacing, so for the quick putting on and taking off of the boots only the opening and closing of the zipper is necessary. This feature is omitted in the case of rubber boots.
Steel-toed boots have been popular as a fashion item since the 1970s. This trend originated in the skinhead scene, whose members began to wear heavy boots (steels) outside working hours to outwardly emphasize their claimed or actual origin from the English working class. This fashion also became popular in other youth cultures, for example in the punk, metal, industrial and wave scenes (EBM, Gothic, etc.), as well as in parts of the BDSM culture.
Other aspects that contributed to the popularity of steel-toed boots as casual footwear include their usability in physical altercations or the desire for a “tough” image. In fact, steel-toed boots were at times banned as weapons in English football stadiums. In pogo, these boots are useful because they protect the feet when others step on the shoe.
Another aspect is safe walking on the grounds of outdoor music festivals, which are often wet and muddy due to the effects of the weather; safety shoes also offer protection against any tent pegs, glass splinters and beverage cans as well as other objects and terrain irregularities that may be deliberately or negligently disposed of incorrectly there. Likewise, the cushioning of safety shoes prevents heel bruises. Safety shoes are usually lighter than mountain boots, which makes dancing easier.
In addition to the original Doc Martens boots, there are a number of manufacturers who produce Rangers, steel-toed boots that closely resemble army combat boots. A wide range of colors and shapes are available, including those with various buckles or chains, from ankle-high street shoes to over-the-knee boots. The height of such boots is indicated by the number of holes for the laces on one side; common sizes are 3 or 4 holes (low shoe), 10, 14 (boot), 20 (high boot), 30 (very high boot).
Imitations of safety boots lack many details of real safety shoes in boot variant on closer inspection. Traditionally, there are still a relatively large number of manufacturers in North America (for example WESCO, Red Wing Shoes and White’s) of safety shoes as boot variants in a wide variety of equipment and designs adapted to the respective operational requirements (for forest workers, postmen, etc.). Remarkable are the still widespread full leather boots (no inner shoe equipment with synthetic fibres or similar), which are sewn (flexible sewn, welted or goat sewn) and which are superior in terms of shoe climate and durability as well as reparability.
Closely related to pure safety shoes in boot variant, with or without steel toe cap, are the work boots of the American cowboys (western boots) as well as some types of motorcycle boots (the latter usually without steel toe cap, which would make the operation of the foot gear lever more difficult).
Fashion has also become an important factor for standard-compliant safety shoes. They therefore often no longer have the work shoe character, but are fashionably designed. For example, there are elegant ladies’ safety shoes with heels for ladies who have to cross security areas in a “business outfit” (production managers, security personnel at airports, etc.).
- DIN EN ISO 20345 Safety shoes old: DIN EN 345
- DIN EN ISO 20346 Protective footwear old: DIN EN 346
- DIN EN ISO 20347 Work shoes old: DIN EN 347
- DIN EN ISO 20344 Test method
- DIN EN 12568 Test method
- DIN 4843 Usage properties (obsolete, included in DIN EN ISO 20344-20347)
- DIN VDE 0680 Body protection equipment in the low-voltage range
- Helge Sternke: Alles über Herrenschuhe. Nicolai, Berlin 2006, ISBN 978-3-89479-252-7 (chapter on work shoes).
– Collection of images, videos and audio files
- German Social Accident Insurance: Use of foot and knee protection.17 January 2017, retrieved 17 January 2017.
- Note on the procurement of firefighting boots