When I was a very young man, living in the Midwest, I worked in a gas station serving the early morning crew coffee, doughnuts and gas. Every morning this short, slender, middle-aged man, hobbled into our station for his cup of joe. His feet pounded on the floor from the heft of his boots. In fact, I can still see his thick lugged, black boots with a giant black metal leather covered shell over the top of his feet. At first I thought this man had a disability not only because of the way he walked but the unsightly proportions of the man’s boots. But day after day, with those same boots, he struggled his way into our station. Then one morning I gained the courage to confront this man and find out just what the heck was on his foot and why. So, I asked – Sir, what is that on the top of your shoes. Without skipping a beat, he said “metatarsal guard” and slapped his .92 cents on the counter and walked out. And that left me wondering – what the heck is a “metatarsal guard.”
Today, I am very familiar with the metatarsal guard. Especially since it saved my foot from the crushing force of a 55 gallon drum of chlorine falling off the back of the pool delivery truck. But most school safety and risk management professionals are not familiar with the metatarsal guard and they should be.
What is a metatarsal guard?
A metatarsal guard is a piece of metal or very durable plastic that has passed the rigors of ASTM and can withstand forces and weights greater than 75lbs being hurled at it. It protects the metatarsal bones in the feet by creating a barrier and displacing the weights and forces that impact it. The metatarsal guard can be built into the shoe, sit on the inside or outside of the shoe or can be a stand-alone device that can be added on to the boot or shoe as needed.
Knowing when you need a metatarsal guard can be a bit of a tricky decision making process. Requiring the use of the metatarsal guard triggers increased boot and shoe costs, reduces selection variety, and brings up objections from staff. But that shouldn’t stop you from protecting your workers.
Metatarsal guards should be worn when heavy objects are likely to drop on the metatarsal portion of your foot (on the laces). This might include working around forklifts, moving plumbing fixtures, working on construction sites or in automotive garages where major repairs are being performed. It can also include job tasks such as using a power washer. When a power washer pressure is high (3,000 psi or more) the possibility of cutting your foot with the water from the wand is very high. The metatarsal guard can provide a level of protection against such tragedies.
Anytime time you are requiring a steel toe or other protective toe in your footwear, you should ask yourself “why am I not requiring a metatarsal guard?”
Metatarsal guards are needed when activities include:
- Working around large paper rolls
- Working around heavy pipes
- Working around skid trucks
- Working around forklifts
- Any other heavy tool or object that is carried or handled could fall or roll over your foot
Approved versus non-approved metatarsal guards
It’s important to note that not all metatarsal guards are approved for use under OSHA standards. Specifically, clip-on, add-on metatarsal guards are not approved for use as PPE in the work setting. Here are two images that show the metatarsal guards.
To pay or not to pay
There’s always a catch to PPE and who has to pay for it. When it comes to construction workers, Federal OSHA 1910.132(h)(3) has an interesting take on the matter. If you offer stand-alone metatarsal guards to your employees, then you do not have to pay for the boots or shoes if the employee elects to purchase the footwear with built-in metatarsal guards.
When the employer provides metatarsal guards and allows the employee, at his or her request, to use shoes or boots with built-in metatarsal protection, the employer is not required to reimburse the employee for the shoes or boots.