Work footwear is an accessory that is not only indispensable for the health of the worker, but also mandatory. It is not without reason that they are classed in the category of personal protective equipment (PPE).
While in the past, safety shoes were only used in jobs considered to be the toughest and most dangerous, such as those carried out in workshops, construction sites and foundries, today, professional shoes are on the feet of countless professionals: from healthcare workers to laboratories, schools, cleaning companies and beauty salons.
It goes without saying, therefore, how wide the range of professional footwear can be, where each shoe has specific characteristics and features responding to the risks that can be encountered in the workplace and which, unfortunately, despite prior assessment and the adoption of all measures, cannot be eliminated. This is why personal protective equipment exists, to provide an additional level of protection against unavoidable residual risks.
But among the many offers available, how do you choose the most suitable work shoes to protect yourself against the risks of your profession? Knowing about their certifications and searching only and exclusively for products bearing these certificates, which actually have the function of ensuring the quality and suitability for use of footwear.
So let's take a look at what these regulations are and how they determine the construction of safety shoes.
Reference standards: Certifications and safety standards
The safety standards to be met in any workplace are defined by very precise standards, the UNI EN ISO, which have very strict benchmarks and specifications, which are tested on the product by authorised third-party bodies in order to obtain certification.
These super partes certifying bodies take care of recreating in the laboratory the environments and conditions suitable for testing and authenticating the protection levels of the footwear, which, if essential, must be marked on the sole. These are generally referred to as safety markings.
In addition to these essential requirements, there are also additional, mandatory or optional requirements depending on the workplace.
Reference standards: the relevant authorities
There are several bodies that legislate on technical standards and safety at work, but the most important organisation worldwide is certainly the International Organization for Standardization, commonly abbreviated to "ISO".
The standards set by this Geneva-based organisation are currently referred to by organisations in 164 countries around the world, which are required to adapt their quality management systems to these standards and to periodically update themselves in response to any revisions of existing standards.
So, when a product is ISO-certified, a high and equal level of quality and safety is guaranteed.
Current and past reference regulations
Before going through the various regulations and how they have been changed, it must be said that, regardless of certification, PPE footwear is required to have certain characteristics and to guarantee a certain level of performance. The requirements of a shoe can be identified in more detail by the presence of markings, represented as letters or symbols, each corresponding to a different type of performance, for example:
- A: antistatic footwear
- E: energy absorption in the heel area
- P: puncture resistance of the bottom of the shoe
- FO: resistance of soles to hydrocarbons
- SRA, SRB or SRC: non-slip performance of the sole under different conditions of use
- CE marking: indicates compliance with European Community regulations on marketed products
To name but a few. These markings allow the main characteristics of the work shoe to be quickly and easily identified, validating its safety and quality.
As far as the reference standards for work shoes are concerned, it must be said that, until 2022, they were as follows:
- EN ISO 20344:2011 – this standard establishes the tests and test methods for footwear designed for use as PPE, and must be complied with in conjunction with EN ISO 20346, or EN ISO 20347 in relation to the specific risks against which they are tested
- EN ISO 20345:2011 – refers to general-purpose safety shoes, identified as "safety footwear", and provides for protection against mechanical risks, slip risks, and thermal risks, as well as stipulating the presence of a protective toecap with resistance to 200 joules (equal to the impact caused by a 20 kg weight falling from a height of 1 metre)
- EN ISO 20346:2012 – footwear bearing this code is defined as "protective footwear", and bears a toecap resistant to impacts of up to 100 joules
- EN ISO 20347:2012 – which corresponds to the definition of "work footwear" and does not include a toecap, but can be supplemented by additional protective functions as required
The year 2022 brought an update in this regard. Updates to requirements and test methods, as well as additional requirements and new markings have been prepared.
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New European standards: updates to requirements and test methods
The main updates to the requirements concerned:
- Toecaps and inserts
- Metal toe caps and anti-puncture inserts must now comply with EN ISO 22568- 1/2/3:2019
- Non-metal anti-puncture inserts must comply with the new EN ISO 22568-4:2021
- Polymeric uppers
- The requirement has been changed from 1.3÷4.6 N/mm2 to ≥1.0 N/mm2. The requirement for elongation at break ≥250 % remains unchanged
- Hybrid footwear
- An additional seam test between the two parts (shell and
- upper) with a requirement of ≥10 N/mm was included.
- Electrically insulating footwear
- The reference to electrically insulating footwear and its harmonised reference standard EN 50321 has been removed.
- Thickness of the sole with cavity
- A new thickness has been introduced for this type of sole, the d4, which stipulates, as an essential requirement, that the tread must be greater than or equal to 2.0 mm.
- The anti-puncture insert
- Non-metal insert
- Its thickness may now only be reduced in the area of the toe flange and in any case no more than 2 mm. Thickness reductions outside this area are not permitted but, in any case, fleshing is not considered a thickness reduction.
- Anti-puncture metal insert
- can have a maximum of three holes (previously also the non-metal one).
As for the updates to the test methods, we have:
- Vapour permeability and coefficient (both for the upper and for the lining)
- For the upper
- If a non-permeable material is present, it must not cover more than 25% of the surface area, excluding: collar, toe cap, countersole and parts in contact with the sole.
- A surface area of less than 10 per cent of non-permeable materials is accepted.
- If it covers an area of up to 25%, the requirement for the remaining materials is ≥2.0 mg/(cm2h).
- These changes are very important since they will also necessarily lead to changes in modelling.
- For the lining
- If the lining is only present in the heel area, there is no requirement to test for vapour permeability.
- If the countersole is not present or is present but perforated, the heel lining must also comply with the vapour permeability and coefficient.
- It is not necessary to test unlined countersoles.
- Abrasion tests
- For the insole
- Changed the final thickness (at the end of the test) to which the insole must be compared to the original. Stipulated at 66%.
- For the sole
- At the end of the test, it must be indicated whether any holes appear on the outside of the sole.
- Other tests on soles
- Multilayer soles
- The specimens must be obtained in the thickness indicated in each test, of one material if the thickness of the sole allows it (sole), or of two materials (sole + midsole) if the thickness is insufficient.
- Soles with cavities
- Specimens must be obtained in the thickness indicated in each test and, if this is not possible, in the thickness available.
- All sole tests must be performed on materials in contact with the ground during use of the footwear, with the exception of resistance to hydrocarbons, where all materials visible from the bottom of the sole must be tested.
Finally, the changes also concerned markings. In this respect, we note:
- Puncture resistance
- Two different tests and markings are provided for footwear with non-metal anti-puncture inserts:
- PL: pass/fail test at 1,100 N with truncated conical nail Ø 4.5 mm. Requirement: no penetration must occur in any of the four measurements. Furthermore, no separation of layers, e.g., curtain effect, should occur during all tests.
- PS: test with maximum puncture force with a truncated conical nail Ø 3.0 mm. Requirements: the average value of the force required to penetrate the bottom must be ≥1,100 N, and each individual value must be ≥950 N.
- Electrical resistance (C or A)
- The name has changed, from "conductive footwear" to "partially conductive footwear".
- Dynamic waterproofing (WR)
- This amendment stipulates that, at the end of this test, no water shall enter the footwear. It must be completely waterproof.
- Slip resistance (SR)
- The tests carried out in this respect were modified by introducing the toe-slip position (with the shoe facing backwards and inclined by 7°) and eliminating the position with the shoe in a flat position. This led to a change in marking and divided the shoes into three groups:
- special footwear, those without slip resistance and for which the test is not applicable (not tested), bearing the marking ∅
- footwear with the basic non-slip requirement, which does not bear the marking
- footwear that meets the slip-resistance requirement on ceramic floors with glycerine, bearing the SR marking
New European standards: new additional requirements
Among the new additional requirements included are:
- End cap (SC)
- Submitted to the abrasion test according to ISO 23388:2018 (with 180 grit abrasive paper) must not show holes through the entire thickness before 8000 cycles.
- Ladder grip (LG)
- The part of the sole in contact with the rung must meet the abrasion requirements and have the dimensions indicated on the following page.