Walking safely at mine sites

Personal protective equipment is the first line of defence to environmental hazards. Image: Blundstone

It is the responsibility of both the employer and employee to ensure that the correct PPE is worn in the workplace. Blundstone reveals pointers for ultimate foot protection.

There is sometimes a degree of complacency across the mining industry when it comes to footwear protection.

People have favourite brands and styles that they have worn for years, not knowing it may be inappropriate for today’s evolving environments and the better options available.

Accident prevention is fundamentally important, but it needs to be met with increased awareness of long-term occupational health issues.

Inadequate foot protection may be detrimental not only to a wearer’s physical health, but also to his or her mental health.

In fact, footwear has a strong bearing on a wearer’s comfort and wellbeing, possibly more than any other item of apparel, according to footwear supplier Blundstone.

A mine site has the potential to be a hazardous workplace due to its physical nature and interaction with natural elements.

The underground mining environment requires especially unique protective features due to its harsh and wet nature.

Working in, on and around mobile equipment also carries its own high-risk potential.

The advent of longer shifts, changing work practices, varied environments and the implications of an ageing workforce are all things that need to be considered when designing safety footwear for the mining industry.

According to Blundstone, one of the best ways to encourage workers to wear protective footwear each and every day is to create a fit-for-purpose product that is both comfortable and easy to wear, and still provides adequate protection as unobtrusively as possible.

The company works with both employers and employees to establish what features of safety boots they need for a particular environment, marking the start of process in creating better ongoing protection for workers.

By working directly with miners who experience their work environment first-hand, Blundstone could create a boot that will stand up to the harshest of conditions and still be comfortable and safe.

Blundstone’s #980 mining boot, for example, has been designed with miners for miners using world-leading technologies.

Its steel toe caps and fully enclosed metatarsal guard of moulded XRD extreme impact protection material provide utmost protection against impact, cuts, penetration and rolling forces without reducing flexibility and comfort.

The non-metallic penetration resistant insole also provides extra protection from penetration, while the waterproof leather is soft and pliable, offering superior waterproofing, abrasion, puncture and tear resistance.

Ways to a better fit

While all safety footwear must comply with the AS/NZS 2210.3:2009 standard, there is a limit to which this standard can be relied upon to determine fitness to specific requirements.

As a start, composite toe caps comply to the above standard but are more suited to light industries as opposed to mining work environments.

For increased heat resistance, one should opt for a safety boot with a sole that is manufactured to withstand up to 300-degrees Celsius, and provides slip resistance in varied environments. The sole should be resistant to cuts, abrasion and microbial attack, and resistant to oil, acid and organic fat.

Heavy duty tread patterns enhance stability in muddy, rugged and outdoor conditions, due to its ability to self-clean and naturally dislodge smalls rocks and dirt.

A superior thermal regulating lining such as bamboo is also anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, breathable, quick drying and deodorising. This is imperative to ensure long-term foot health.

Additionally, Blundstone points out it is important to have an upper design that provides excellent ankle support and stability, an upper material that is durable and a lacing system that precludes trip potential such as open hooks.

For the greatest protection against electrical hazards, Blundstone recommends ASTM F2413-17 electrical hazard resistant footwear.

There are three categories of electrical conductivity in safety footwear: insulating (also known as electrical hazard resistant), anti-static and conductive.

According to Blundstone, it’s a common misconception that metal in a boot is bad when working around electricity. Metal is conductive when it’s in contact with other metal, but steel toe caps and shanks are enclosed by non-conductive materials such as leather and rubber, and are therefore safe to wear in environments where there are live circuits.

Most industries must comply with relevant government regulations regarding the provision and suitable wear of PPE, not the least safety footwear.

This article also appears in the Jul-Sept edition of Safe to Work.