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The Comfort & Care of Work Boots

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By: Maureen Paraventi

Work boots – especially for industries such as construction – are substantial items, designed and built to protect your phalanges and metatarsals, your muscles, tendons, ligaments and oh yes, that painful-when-injured Achilles tendon – all of the marvelous parts that make up the all-
important appendage that allows you to walk, run, jump and just…stand.

While safety footwear manufacturers strive to make their products as comfortable as possible, the weight and solidity of work boots can leave feet (along with ankles and even knees) feeling sore and strained at the end of a shift. There are some things you can do to increase the comfort level when wearing this type of this indispensable safety gear.

Start with fit

Wear the same socks you wear on the job, preferably ones made of polyester or a wool or wool blend. Polyester cushions the foot well and ushers moisture away from your feet. Wool and wool blend socks are naturally antimicrobial, so they decrease moisture and odor. Cotton socks – which are very popular due to their affordability – quickly lose their cushioning property. Worse, they absorb moisture, so that your feet are kept damp during your shift. Uncomfortable and unhealthy.

When you’re boot shopping, try on both at the same time. Walk in them. Hop up and down in them. Do your toes have sufficient room? Do they have too much room, so that they’re moving forward? Is your heel rising up out of the boot? Are any components on the inside of your boot irritating your foot? (Even stitching can be irritating.) When you flex your feet, do the boots bend too much? That’s an indication of insufficient support in the arch area.

Once you’ve decided upon a pair of work boots, wear them for a week outside of work, during normal activities, in order to break them in. Using an oil-based conditioner will also help get your boots ready for on-the-job use.

Work boot selection guide

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Safety footwear must fit the job as well as the person who’ll be wearing it. In addition to a hazard analysis, a review of work-related activities will help narrow down the choices. The wearer must be comfortable, but must also be able to efficiently perform work-related tasks. Here are the features that should be taken into account when choosing a work boot:

Construction should be sturdy and slip resistant. If you want boots to have a long life, choose welted or stitchdown ones that can be re-soled when needed. In addition to the traditional steel toes – which may make feet feel cold during outdoor work in the winter – there are also protective toes made of alternative materials.

When water resistance is needed, look for boots with waterproof membranes or leather outer layers and a taller height. Keep in mind that waterproof boots will be heavier (because of the extra height) and will take longer to dry after a shift. If water resistance is not needed, shorter boots will provide more comfort. (You can also take steps to waterproof your boots; they’re discussed below).

Insulation in a work boot is important for workers who spend a lot of times outdoors in cold temperatures, but in warm weather, it can make feet feel hot and sweaty.

Consider using arch support soles

Support insoles can help you with on-the-job comfort as well as existing foot conditions such as plantar fasciitis and tendinitis. By keeping your foot aligned correctly, they can also prevent pain in your knees and hips. The range of features and types offered by manufacturers gives you plenty of choices, including:

  • Extra shock absorption, for workers whose feet may potentially be struck by objects
  • Anti-fatigue technology
  • Ventilation to help keep the feet cool
  • Extra thickness, for heavier weight people
  • A thick heel cup and thin front foot which keep feet in a comfortable position and the wearer’s spine properly aligned
  • Anti-microbial materials that keep feet cool and reduce odor

Taking care of your boots

Regular cleaning of built-up dirt, mud, salt and waterproofing wax with a water-based agent and a nylon brush will help boots last longer and keep them from drying out. Cleaning out the inside of the boot with a shampoo will help remove odor.

To boost the water resistance of leather or suede boots, apply a water-based waterproofing agent specific to that material. A water-based product won’t cause the leather to stretch and will keep the boot breathable. Repeat the applications twice more, after three-week intervals, for superior water resistance. To prevent suede boots from shrinking, stuff them with newspaper after applying the waterproofing product.

And finally, always make sure boots dry thoroughly after each shift. WMHS

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