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Can standards-compliant working boots lead to an accident?

Working boots are something standard for a working person in a heavy industry. Boots design includes many safety features against e.g. slippery floor, heavy load fall onto the leg and so on. However, is the design enough to avoid an accident? What else could go wrong?

This question is answered by this article implementing the Swiss cheese model. The described experience will shed light at some mistakes that cannot prevent injuries even wearing working boots of cutting edge technology. The incident held in a heavy industry in Southern Europe during summer season.

My supervisor was the safety and hygiene expert whose tasks were to guide, report, supervise potential threads for the technicians and engineers, wrong behaviours and practices to eliminate the possibility of having a fatal accident. My tasks during this post was to follow my supervisor and help him whenever needed. Therefore, this makes clear that some days it was necessary to walk through the whole factory and check all the operations.

The time, in which this experience happened is crucial as summer days are very hot with average temperature of 35°C during working time, which has an effect at the working conditions.

The factors which led to the injury were:

  • Factory management

  • Shoe design

  • Routine

  • Weather & period

  • Wrong habit

  • Previous experience with boots

  • No guideline about safety shoes

Regarding the factory management, the poor coordination of the trainees and the lack of personnel were some causes of not having decent supervision from the beginning of the traineeship. Thus, introduction to the personal protective equipment was bad in conjunction with the absence of guidelines about the safety shoes. These guidelines should have been given to the trainees because the undergraduate engineering students are not familiar with these procedures and the equipment.

The safety shoe design is based on standards such as the EN ISO 20345 standard which clearly states the functionality of each feature and the way of wearing them. Therefore, it is implied to use thick high-ankle socks to prevent friction between the skin and the shoe materials. These standards hold in every weather and working condition even during hot days around 40 degrees and more. As a result, the worker cannot choose another shoe type during working.

Additionally, routine aspects had an impact on the studied injury. More specifically, most of the working time during the traineeship were spent at the office, working on the computer.

Consequently, I wasn’t walking so much to have a skin injury using even thin short socks. Towards this wrong habit, the non-familiarization with boots was a key factor that led to this accident since during winter in Southern Europe, the use of winter boots is not indispensable compared to colder countries such as Finland.

Finally, due to weather in this region presence of mosquitoes is very common and the signs of itchy skin can be misunderstood as mosquito bites and not real skin injury. All the above-mentioned factors ended up to a skin injury and the error analysis is shown at the end of the article.

The safety barriers, which should have been posed in order to prevent similar injuries, are shown at the figure above. The first barrier is the personal protective equipment procedure which include manuals and behaviour acts.

The second barrier is the training in this matter, given by safety experts and experienced engineers. The third slice of cheese consists of actions from the side of management.

These actions refer to providing special spare high-ankle socks which do not warm up so much during hot days.

This measure will help employees who have sensitive skin. The final barrier refers to the safety inspections, performed by the safety expert, and it states that socks checking should be included at his/her check list to prevent these injuries on site. If all these defences are breached, then a serious skin injury will happen.

- Panagiotis Korkos, Doctoral Researcher

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