Right Foot Forward: The Importance of Healthy Feet

Poor foot health costs industry millions of pounds in lost days every year, as well as causing individuals a good deal of personal discomfort. Here Bjoern Klafver, Gore Footwear Associate describes the complexities of the foot and tells us why wearing the correct safety footwear is vital for healthy feet at work.

How often do you think about your feet? If the answer is ‘not very often’ the chances are it’s because you are already taking good care of them and wearing comfortable and protective safety footwear, day in and day out. It’s only when our feet begin to give us pain or discomfort, such as when our footwear is uncomfortable or wet from the previous days work, that we are we likely to give the topic much thought. But feet that are too hot, too cold, wet or painful, can make our daily work a misery and impact on employers due to lost work days.

A Complex Design 

The human foot is a complex piece of engineering, with 26 bones, 33 joints and more than 100 muscles, tendons and ligaments. In fact, a quarter of all our bones are in the feet and by necessity, our feet bear a heavy load, especially when standing and moving. In addition, our feet, hands and head have more sweat glands than the rest of our body.  Feet have between 190 to 200 sweat glands per cm².  When we sit for eight hours our feet generate 20 grams of sweat, walking for the same time period produces 44 grams of sweat and during heavy physical work this rises to 200 grams. It is therefore important to consider opting for breathable safety footwear which allows sweat to escape. 

Wearing incorrectly fitting or unsuitable footwear at work leads to a lack of concentration, lower motivation and more likelihood of accidents and sickness.

In fact, foot pain, or that affecting the knees, hips and back lead to workplace absence.  Back pain alone, one of the main results of badly-fitting shoes or boots, accounted for 6.6 million lost working days in the UK during 2017/18 according to statistics from the Health and Safety Executive. (1)

Our feet are a miracle of creation and take a lot of punishment throughout the day. The average person takes approximately 8,000 to 10,000 steps a day. From childhood to old age we walk a distance of about 1,000,000 km. The distance around the equator is 40,075.017 kilometres, so that means almost 25 times round the world.   Many groundsmen and greenkeepers are likely to exceed this amount and walk much further.  

Outdoor work

Being required to work outdoors for extended periods in all weathers can put a huge strain on our feet. As well as staying warm and dry, we need to be comfortable and to avoid injury. Feet can become too hot or too cold, and in both cases, harm can occur, some of which may be serious. 

Everyone who works outside will understand the importance of protection from the adverse weather conditions as they are likely to be exposed for prolonged periods.  Although overheating can be problematic, leading to hyperthermia and possibly heat stroke, in the UK it is the effects of cold on the feet that are more common. Cold stress can be encountered in many types of work environment. Understanding cold stress, how it may affect health and safety, and how it can be prevented is vital to healthy feet. 

What constitutes extreme cold and its effects depends on ‘normal’ conditions. In regions that are not used to winter weather, near freezing temperatures are considered “extreme cold.” A cold environment forces the body to work harder to maintain its temperature. Whenever temperatures drop below normal and wind speed increases, heat can leave your body more rapidly.

It’s a fact that the temperature of our feet has a major influence on our feeling of well-being. The perfect skin temperature for our feet while we rest is between 28-32°C. If it’s lower than 28°C they feel cold – at about 12°C they are in danger of cold stress or frostbite.

Cold stress occurs by driving down the skin temperature and eventually the internal body temperature (core temperature). This may lead to serious health problems, and may cause tissue damage. Conditions like hypothermia, frostbite and even Trench Foot can be the unfortunate outcomes. 

Risk factors

Some of the risk factors that contribute to cold stress are wetness/dampness, incorrect dressing, especially footwear, and exhaustion, predisposing health conditions such as hypertension, hypothyroidism, and diabetes and poor physical conditioning. Research indicates that long work days in a wet environment and with changing weather are very risky for feet and suggests that it is important to use footwear that protects the feet through thermal insulation and moisture control from the inside and also outside(2) 

Safety footwear

Employers are obliged by Health and Safety Law to provide footwear that equips their employees for the work they undertake. Standard EN ISO 20345:2011 specifies basic and additional requirements for safety footwear for general purpose and this legislation is supplemented by additional Standards for more specific risk factors. Criteria such as good grip, breathability, waterproofness, quick re-drying properties and heat insulation should be considered seriously when selecting safety footwear. 

So, to sum up its important to keep your feet protected, supported, a comfortable temperature and dry.  Industry-proven durable footwear costs employers less in the long run as it doesn’t need to be replaced as often.  Quality safety footwear will help to reduce job-related accidents, injuries and illnesses because wearers can comfortably forget about their feet and carry on with their work undistracted. 

References

  1. www.hse.gov.uk/statistics/dayslost.html
  2. Protection of Feet in Cold Exposure , Kalev KUKLANE, 2009

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