Personal Protective Equipment: Footwear

safety footwear

To be classified as “safety footwear,” shoes and boots must have a protective toe and provide impact and compression protection.

Having the proper footwear is key to your PPE ensemble. It is essential to protect the base of your body from an assortment of hazards that may have taken a turn toward your legs and feet. Tools, chemicals, and sharp objects are among the top hazards. Also, individuals have noted electrical hazards and prolonged walking as sources of injury.

Types of Leg and Foot Protection

There are numerous types of footwear that can fend off those hazards. Safety shoes and boots are designed to be resistant to chemicals, heat, water, puncturing, and electrical shock. Many are fashioned with slip and metatarsal guards. Also, leggings and foot and shin guards are made to protect the lower legs and feet.

To be classified as “safety footwear,” however, shoes and boots must have a protective toe and provide impact and compression protection, according to the American National Standards Institute (ANSI). That said, no standard for the type or amount of protection has been decided by footwear manufacturers, ANSI, OSHA or any other organization. Consumers can verify that a particular footwear product provides adequate protection, however, by reviewing the footwear labels or by contacting the manufacturer.

There are several offerings in the area of special purpose shoes, including:

  • Electrical hazard, safety-toe shoes, which are nonconductive and will prevent the wearers’ feet from completing an electrical circuit to the ground. These shoes can guard against open circuits of up to 600 volts in dry conditions. They should be used in conjunction with other insulating equipment, however, the insulating protection of this footwear may be compromised if the shoes become wet, the soles are worn through, metal particles become embedded in the sole or heel, or workers touch conductive, grounded items.
  • Electrically conductive shoes, which protect against the buildup of static electricity. Individuals working in explosive and hazardous locations such as grain elevators or explosives manufacturing facilities must wear conductive footwear to reduce the risk of static electricity buildup on the body, as an explosion or fire could be set off from just a spark. Silk, wool and nylon socks can produce static electricity and should not be worn with conductive footwear. Conductive shoes must be removed when the task requiring their use is completed.
  • Foundry shoes,which insulate the feet from the extreme heat of molten metal. They also keep hot metal from lodging into the eyelets, tongues or other parts of the shoes. The footwear fits snugly, is made in leather or leather-substitute, features safety toes, and has leather or rubber soles and rubber heels.

Notes on Footwear

It is recommended that closed-toed shoes be worn at all times in buildings where chemicals are located. In laboratories or places where mechanical work is conducted, perforated shoes, sandals or cloth sneakers should not be worn. Moreover, steel-toed safety shoes may be needed where there are risks of heavy objects falling or rolling onto the feet, such as in bottle-washing operations or animal care facilities.

Chemical-resistant overshoes or boots may be used to avoid possible exposure to corrosive chemicals or large quantities of solvents or water that might penetrate normal footwear (for example, during the cleanup of a spill). Leather shoes tend to absorb chemicals and may have to be discarded if contaminated with a hazardous material.

For More Information

Learn more about footwear by reading OSHA’s overview on personal protective equipment. (

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This information is not exhaustive and should not be construed as containing all the necessary compliance, safety, or warning information available. Please make sure you consult with EH&S or appropriate supervisors for all safety information and procedures.

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