In order to work safely, it is necessary to wear footwear that is comfortable and safe, choosing from the many offers on the market those that regularly meet all the safety standards required in the workplace and that best reflect one’s needs for comfort and aesthetics.
Work shoes, especially for those who spend many hours on their feet or who work in a sector with medium-high risk levels, are an essential protective measure to prevent possible injuries and pathologies that would affect feet, legs and back.
Safety footwear is in fact a very important piece of personal protective equipment (PPE), whose purpose is to protect the wearer from various types of risk:
- Mechanical: such as impacts, crushing, cuts or punctures
- Biological: contact with or splashing of potentially infectious organic substances
- Chemical: spills of irritating chemicals
- Physical: electrostatic charges, humidity, heat or cold
Over time, the most avant-garde companies producing PPE footwear have invested in the study and research of new processes that have led to an exponential improvement of these devices, especially in terms of comfort, freedom of movement, breathability, lightness and design, a direct consequence of the choice of increasingly modern and advanced technical solutions and materials.
The evolution of the work shoe has undergone almost a revolution over the years: from the toe cap to the heel, from the upper to the sole, everything has been studied and optimised down to the smallest detail. In this article we will look at the materials most commonly used in the manufacture of work footwear and observe their various characteristics.
Materials in work shoes
The performance of a work shoe in terms of comfort and protection is defined first of all by the materials chosen to make it, which with their peculiarities and technical characteristics offer different levels of:
- Softness: and therefore comfort, flexibility and greater freedom of movement;
- Breathability: to ensure that the foot is always ventilated and “breathes”;
- Water repellent: to keep the foot dry and protect the skin from infiltration of water or other liquids.
To date, work shoes on the market are mainly made of two types of material: leather and synthetic fabrics or polymers.
This concerns the upper part of the footwear, the upper, which is the most visible side of the shoe and which, in addition to defining the aesthetic appearance, must also respect certain parameters, including:
- Foot insulation;
Among the types of leather chosen to respect these characteristics, we find grain leather, nubuck leather or suede on the market; while the synthetic materials that best meet the above-mentioned requirements are microfiber, rubber and expanded EVA.
But what are the differences in terms of the use of these materials? Obviously, when choosing work footwear, the sector in which one works and the tasks carried out must be taken into account, but as we will see below, innovations in the field of PPE footwear have made these devices extremely versatile and usable in many situations. Let’s take a closer look at each category.
The most common in environments such as construction sites, workshops and wherever the shoe upper is ‘put to the test’ during work. The different types of leather, especially if of high quality, can be tanned and treated to meet different needs, especially when high protective characteristics are required.
It is a very weather-resistant material that can be made water-repellent and burn-resistant. The coefficient of permeability, thickness and flexibility vary depending on the type of leather and the treatment it has undergone. Leather safety footwear therefore tends to be:
This material, aesthetically very similar to leather, has the particularity of being much lighter than the leather used in professional footwear. In fact, as the name suggests, the “micro-fibres” of which it is composed are exceptionally thin, making the footwear particularly light. Used above all in the health, agri-food and hotel sectors for its ease of washing and because it does not retain dirt, this water-repellent material is able to provide a high level of comfort, elasticity and, of course, hygiene. We can therefore say that microfibre shoes are particularly:
Footwear made of SEBS rubber
SEBS rubber is a type of technical material used above all in the production of sanitary footwear and sanitary clogs. This is because, as well as being extremely soft and comfortable, it is also able to withstand the high temperatures reached during autoclave sanitisation. SEBS footwear is ideal for use in hospitals and healthcare facilities, where accessories and instruments need to be autoclaved frequently. However, this type of footwear is now used in many other contexts – such as the pharmaceutical and food industries… And thanks to its high level of comfort, even in the home.
SEBS hi-tech rubber is also highly resistant to oxidising agents and liquids (including acids) and has a much lower environmental impact than other synthetic materials used in occupational footwear. Summing up the characteristics of SEBS rubber footwear, we can say that they are:
Footwear made of expanded EVA
EVA (ethyl vinyl acetate) footwear is the most suitable when lightness and elasticity are important. This technical material, the polyethylene foam base of which is treated to make it extremely elastic and comfortable, is now used in many areas in addition to footwear.
This is because among its many properties is the fact that it is a non-allergenic and non-toxic material, resistant to fungi and bacteria, as well as being water-repellent and available in a wide range of colours. All these features are making it particularly popular in hospitals, kindergartens and schools, nursing homes and in the beauty and ho.re.ca. sectors.
The main features of EVA footwear?
Footwear with a Goretex membrane is particularly popular in the hiking sector because of its exceptional breathability and waterproof properties. This porous and thin lining material is able to insulate the foot from moisture, repelling water from the outside and absorbing sweat from the inside, making it particularly suitable for situations of prolonged exertion.
The dual performance of breathable and water-repellent allows for unparalleled versatility in all seasons, as this keeps the foot dry and at a pleasant temperature on both cold and hot days or under the weather.
But how is this kind of performance made possible? Goretex is a high-tech material made up of almost one and a half billion microscopic pores per square centimetre of covering, pores 20,000 times smaller than water droplets and 700 times larger than water vapour molecules. In footwear, this means guaranteed dry feet all year round! And if that’s not enough, for added protection for the working environment, the Goretex membrane can be supplemented with an oleophobic solution that still allows vapour to escape, while blocking the entrance of contaminating substances and liquids.
The choice of this material, born for sports but now increasingly popular also for safety shoes, is very suitable if you are looking for footwear:
Other components of occupational footwear
As we know, each type of footwear is composed of various elements in addition to the upper, such as the sole, the insole, the closure, the tongue and so on. In occupational footwear, each of these elements is designed to be safe and to fulfil various additional functions.
– The sole: The soles of occupational footwear are typically made of polyurethane (PUR), thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU) or rubber. The sole of work footwear is specifically designed to prevent slipping on different types of surfaces where liquids or detergents are likely to be present. It is therefore imperative that the soles of PPE footwear are suitable for the environment in which they will be used, and that they bear SRA, SRB or SRC certification.
– The toecap: in steel, aluminium or thermoplastic material, the toecap is an essential component when there is a risk of crushing due to falling weights. There are also various safety certifications for the toe cap, which serve to ensure that the toe cap can withstand pressure, impact or burning.
– The insole: removable or fixed, this element contributes to the level of comfort and hygiene of the footwear. Since it is in almost direct contact with the foot (assuming you are wearing socks), it can keep the foot dry by absorbing sweat, and ensure a comfortable fit by preventing pain in the feet, back and knees. If it can be removed, the insole can be conveniently washed or replaced. The best performing materials for insoles in work shoes are foam (e.g. EVA or memory foam), gel and noene.
Reposa, a specialist in the production of work footwear and clogs, offers a rich catalogue, consisting of various product lines that meet the different needs of the areas in which they are used. To find out how to choose the most suitable work footwear for your sector, read the article on how to choose your work footwear.