Recently, we were hired to conduct a PPE hazard assessment for a school district that really cares about safety and health. They were concerned with the number of injuries and complaints they were getting involving footwear. Bad knees, bad ankles, plantar faciatias, toe problems and a multitude of other complaints. The funny thing was that none of the injuries truly involved dropping items on their feet, meaning either the steel toes weren’t working or nobody had a case of the dropsies. In either case, that was a good sign for the district because it meant that it was a problem they could solve.
Boots wear out?
Yes, in fact they do wear out. Not really a shocking statement by any stretch of the imagination, but what is shocking is how fast they wear out. When we brought up the fact that running shoes are designed to last approximately 300-500 miles tops depending on various lifestyle criteria (weight, activity level, etc. ) and boots go an extra 500 if your lucky, you could hear a pin drop. The reason? Their PPE budget was about to grow and that is never a good thing for a school district to hear.
1,000 miles? that’s ridiculous
Yes, I have read the forums where guys brag about their work boots lasting 10 years, but they never really say how many miles they put on them. Heck, I have pairs of shoes and boots that are 15 years old, but have only worn them to funerals and weddings.
It’s not really the age of the shoe/boot that matters, it’s the mileage and the type of miles that you put on them. Remember that old saying, 120,000 miles, but they’re all highway miles? The fact is that a typical trade employee at a school district will log 260 days a year. Those 260 days require you to bust out 4 miles a day to reach the 1,000 mile mark. If most people were walking 4 miles a day, they would be logging 8,000 steps a day and on their way to what the health insurance industry deems a healthy lifestyle. At the 1,000 mile range you are looking at a pair of boots a year. Not bad for most people. But not all boots are made the same.
You get what you pay for
Let’s face it, boot manufacturers are in business to make money. If their boots lasted for 3,000 miles that would be 3 less pairs of boots they sold. Boots are just like any other product you purchase, the higher the price tag, typically the better quality materials and craftsmanship. For example, Superfeet (registered trademark) insoles are superior insoles ranging from $39 to $50 and they estimate their insoles will last on average 300-500 miles. When it comes to boots, you are paying for better quality outer soles, mid soles and insoles. Those three footwear components are designed to provide your foot with the cushioning, support and control in every step. When these break down then foot, shin, and knee problems are heading your way.
Okay, you’ve heard it before – you need to loose some weight. Yes, your weight and the weight of all the objects you carry plays havoc on your footwear. Your body weight, plus tools, equals greater compression forces on the midsoles and outersoles of your footwear. This breaks down the cushioning, support and control that the boot or shoe offers. So, where you can, lighten the load. The less you wear that tool belt all day, the longer your footwear will last. This is especially true for electricians , police officers and maintenance workers.
The curse of wear and tear in Slip resistant vs. non-slip resistant soles
When it comes to workplace safety footwear, 9 times out of 10, you will need a slip-resistant outer sole. And 9 times out of 10, that means in order for that sole to work properly, it will need to be made from a softer rubber or composite material instead of a non-slip resistant sole. Naturally, the harder the outter sole material the less ability it has to grip, mold and react to the surface that it is stepping onto. That means that the softer material will lose the fight against friction and break when it battles hard substances such as concrete. It’s the same principle as a diamond cutting glass or ceramic cutting glass. The harder substance wins. This is one of the reasons that your safety footwear will not last too long after the 1,000 mile mark.
Mother Nature is one tough lady
Another reason you won’t get the extended mileage from your work boots is the force of mother nature. Glue, foam and other materials start to age as soon as they are placed in the box. That means that the foam that is used in the midsole to support your foot is breaking down. Knowing when the shoe was made can add extra miles to the life of your boot. This is one reason you shouldn’t buy the clearenace safety footwear – they have been sitting around too long.
Okay, let’s say I have convinced you that your work boots will wear out a little faster than you ever thought possible. How do you really know that you have gone the distance?
Listen to your body
There is really only one way to know when your footwear has been bested and that is when your body tells you so. Each piece of footwear is constructed a little different and also from different materials. Where you walk, how much you walk, what you walk on and the chemicals your shoes are exposed to all vary.
The first sign that your footwear has seen better days is the aches and pains in your feet, especially in the ball of your foot and your heel. Pain will eventually work it’s way up your legs and result in shin splints and knee and calf pain. Trust me, I have flat, pronated feet and I weigh in at 240 pounds. I go though a pair of flip flops a month, running shoes every 3 months, dress shoes every 2 months and work boots about every 4 months. I am hard on my footwear and I immediately know when it is time to replace them because my knees start hurting.
If your feet, shins, heel, or knees start to hurt then it’s most likely time for a new pair of boots.
Going the extra mile
Sure there are ways to get a few extra miles out of your shoes and if you want to keep you PPE costs down, then following these best practices may help. Let’s look at a few
Get two pairs of boots the next time you are shopping and then rotate them daily. Rotating the boots lets the moisture dry and allows the boot to breathe. Moisture can eat away at your feet causing issues in the long run.
Yes, you should clean your boots. I know oil and grime make you look tough, but all that dirt eats away at the materials and ages your boot.
Leather is skin after all. Just like your skin, your leather boots require the proper hydration. Manufacturers typically recommend a good leather cleaner and conditioner . Find out what your boot manufacturer recommends and then treat your boots to a day at the spa.