Tools for Your Feet: Safety Starts from the Ground Up

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By Mark Reilly, Division Director, KEEN Utility

Safety footwear has come a long way from the original work boot. Once made of stiff leathers and bulky steel toes to protect feet from fallen objects and crush injuries, today’s boots are sleeker, faster and more protective than ever. There’s an advanced science behind the designs of safety styles today. Manufacturer’s now possess a more strategic outlook on manufacturing work footwear often utilizing very specific performance and safety technologies that make the work boot another important tool in a worker’s kit.

Footwear 101

To better understand the work boot, let’s first take a basic look at the structure of safety footwear.

Upper: The boot’s upper refers to the upper part of the boot. Traditionally made of durable leather, today’s uppers often feature durability and performance features like tough tech leather to further protect from abrasions. In addition to leather uppers, some work boots styles feature the hardwearing, lightweight nylon a durable fabric often found in more lightweight, warm-temperature footwear.

Footbed: The footbed is the inside of the shoe that runs under the foot. Sometimes referred to as the insole, today’s footbed’s feature a variety of performance advancements to improve comfort and wear for long days of work.

Midsole: The midsole lies between the footbed and the outsole and has the main purpose of providing shock absorption and support for the wearer. Today’s midsoles are traditionally made from Ethylene vinyl acetate (EVA) or Polyurethane (PU). EVA outsoles are soft and flexible but compact over time and wear. While PU outsoles of the past were harder and less comfortable, today’s advances in the manufacturing process are producing direct-inject PU midsoles that provide remarkable durability and comfort for the wearer.

The Keen Utility Tucson is an example of work wear that's both functional and comfortable.

The Keen Utility Tucson is an example of work wear that’s both functional and comfortable.

Outsole: The outsole is a crucial part of industrial and safety footwear, providing stability, traction and protection from on-site slips and falls. Industrial footwear features a variety of materials for outsoles ranging from rubber, PU and TPU. Today’s workers have many things to consider when it comes to safety requirements and the types of outsoles available range from oil, abrasion and slip-resistant, static dissipating, puncture-resistant and more.

Shank: In a work boot the shank is part of the support structure and is located between the insole and outsole, providing rigidity and stability for the boot. Traditionally made of steel, shank can also be made out of fiberglass and plastic materials.

Safety-toes: Protection is paramount on the job site. Workers have three options when it comes to toe-protection that still satisfy ASTM safety requirements. Steel toes are the most traditional choice for protective toecaps. Aluminum offers a very lightweight option for protection but is thicker than their steel counterparts. Composite toes are typically comprised of carbon fiber, plastic or Kevlar® and do not transfer heat and cold. Composite toes are also a great option for workers passing through metal detectors or working in environments that need to remain metal-free.


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10 comments on “Tools for Your Feet: Safety Starts from the Ground Up

  1. Lon

    Nice information. When is the industry going to come up with an insole that comforms to the shape of your foot better versus your foot comforming to the insole? For example my arches are very low and many arches in shoes hurt versus being comfortable.

  2. John S

    Now that I think about it, I think the keen model of boots that I have are alum toe and not steel toed… I totally forgot about it – no wonder they aren’t tool heavy! This was a great article – thanks for posting it!

  3. Kevin

    Right now I figure my Combat boots are good enough for when I was in the military so they are good enough for me now. However I do have to say after being on a ladder all day the souls of my feet do hurt so maybe I will look into a nice pair of work boots.

  4. Michael

    You should also consider how the shoe is constructed. Most of the new-style work boots cannot be resoled. Once the sole wears out, that’s $150-200 gone. The traditional Goodyear welt construction, still used on many boots, can be repaired.

  5. Austin

    Right now I wear my old basketball shoes, they have great support, grip, and durability. I have been looking into getting a pair of military boots but may look into these as well.

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