Steel-toe boots: what to look for

When one is picking out a pair of steel-toe boots (also known as safety boots), it is important to make sure that you pick the best for what you need them for. Steel-toe boots are designed to protect workers or people who work with heavy-duty things and need to protect their feet. Most people can do with just the basic steel-toe boots – for example, wearing steel-toe boots at a food service job can be really valuable just to protect from dropping heavy objects on your feet which can happen fairly often. There is a wide variety of steel-toe boots to choose from depending on need, so make sure that you get the right one for the job. Figuring that out is, thankfully, not too difficult however.
 
History of safety boots

Before the invention of safety boots like steel-toe, there was a relative lack of consideration for protecting workers from physical harm. In Germany, one of the earliest examples of this is called the 'sabot,' a wooden boot worn by farmers. Companies would often take risks with their employees because replacing employees was generally cheaper than safety costs. However, this eventually changed as liability concerns became more and more expensive. The 1930s saw the Red Wings Shoe Company get into the use of steel-toe boots.
 
US marking

Picking out your steel-toe boots, you should look for boots that have specific markers, which may vary by state or even country. Let's try to cover the United States first. The United States in general uses six different types of steel-toe boots. The most basic of steel-toe boots will have a green triangle symbol on the boot, indicating a class 1 toe cap that protects from punctures. Meanwhile, a yellow triangle indicates a class 2 toe cap and also protects from punctures. These are good for basic steel-toe boots needs. Meanwhile, a more heavy-duty pair of steel-toe boots has a fir tree symbol on them, meaning that they protect against chainsaws. However, please don't intentionally use chainsaws on your boots, that would be a problem.

There are three more types of steel-toe boots, all dealing with static and/or electricity. A pair of steel-toe boots which sports a yellow square with “SD” on it is designed to protect from static electricity, which is good to protect one's self from allowing static to course through one's body. Meanwhile, a red square with the letter “C” on it conducts electricity. Finally, a white square with the omega symbol is for general electricity protection. Be very careful to make sure that you check for these symbols and check with your employer on which steel-toe boots are needed for your workplace. Steel-toe boots are also required to adhere to OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) standards.
 
Canadian marking

Canada uses a similar system enforced by the CSA (Canadian Standards Association), with much of the symbols and meanings of the steel-toe boots being pretty much the same. For example, the chainsaw-protective steel-toe boots with the fir tree symbol is on the same steel-toe boots in Canada, but with some minor differences. For instance, there is an extra class of steel-toe boots with a blue square that only has a grade 1 protective toe and is not an especially protective pair of steel-toe boots compared to the rest of the steel-toe boots mentioned above.

In Canada, regulations mandate that any steel-toe boots meet at least one of five criteria:

  • That the boots have a steel cap. The boot will say 0, 1, or 2, showing the level of protection (with 0 being none, 1 being protecting against a 125-joule impact, and 2 protecting against a 90-joule impact).
  • That the boots' soles protect from punctures (P is for the affirmative, O is for the negative).
  • That the boots protect against shock and collision (M is for the affirmative, O is for the negative).
  • That the boots provide some level of protection from electricity (E referring to a resistance to electric shocks, S referring to dispersion of static electricity, and C referring to conducting electricity).
  • That the boots protect from chainsaws (X is for the affirmative, O is for the negative).

When picking a steel-toe boots, make sure that the boots you pick fit as many criteria as you need. If you are working an intensive job with high risk for foot damage, definitely try to touch upon all five points. For a lower-risk job, something with only one or two of the criteria should be fine as well.