High-tech for safety and style

Shoes and boots that look the part but also deliver the required protection are not incompatible goals, so says Peter Dumigan of the Hultafors Group.

Safety footwear has evolved enormously over the last two hundred years. While clogs and heavy leather boots were used by factory workers and miners in the 19th century, steel toe-cap and hob nail boots came to the fore in the first half of the 20th century, while army surplus footwear and rigger boots were some of the products used in the years that followed.

Protective footwear has obviously moved on in light years since those times, but some of today’s poorly designed and non-compliant safety footwear is as uncomfortable and damaging as stiff leather hob-nail boots. 

Modern times

The design, development and manufacture of safety footwear in the 21st century is controlled by the regulatory framework provided by the European directives for personal protective equipment (CE EN 20345:2011), which ensures that every safety footwear product is designed to offer the right protection in compliance with these standards.

While regulations control safety footwear design and development, product innovation is influenced by advances in materials technology, the uses and applications of which are driven by safety and user attitudes to style, design and comfort.  

For the leading safety footwear brands, these are the key drivers in product design and development – as well as the fact that men and women have different on-site requirements.

In recent years there has been an increase in the use of ‘behavioural safety’ or ‘behaviour modification’ approaches to safety product development, which involve the clear understanding of, and defining attitudes to safe or unsafe behaviour at work.

For many employers, it’s a key issue given that so many accidents and injuries are reported to be attributable to inappropriate or sloppy attitudes at work. In terms of the overall management of health and safety practices at work, effective behavioural awareness among the workforce  – which comes from a good understanding of health and safety issues – reduces risk and injury.

Safety first

For safety footwear manufacturers this issue is compounded by design and fashion influences. Product comfort, aesthetics and style are key factors in encouraging workers to use safety footwear – and by association ensuring they understand the benefits of keeping their feet comfortable and protected. 

It’s a highly efficient vehicle for increasing workforce participation in health and safety programmes. Thus the resulting behaviour and individual actions can positively influence the overall health and safety culture in an organisation.

Performance through innovation is a key philosophy in continually modernising safety footwear as well as satisfying regulatory requirements and a user’s safety needs.

By using high-tech materials in product design, 21st century health and safety is moving away from the old idea that high-protection safety footwear can come from simply having a heavy boot. While there will always be ‘traditional’ work boots in any safety footwear range, the most modern safety footwear can be lightweight with sporty-looking designs if they’re made from state-of-the-art footbed materials complemented by the most modern technical fibres and quality materials in the uppers.

Material matters 

In terms of what inspires our product development, it’s ultimately the specific needs of professional craftsmen and women on site which have been thoroughly researched and tested. Our objective is simply to deliver the best quality safety footwear on the market. 

That is why we work with suppliers known for their state-of-the-art material, such as Gore-Tex  for water protection and its ability to breathe; Vibram soles for grip and durability; the BOA Closure System for easy adjustments; and rip-stop Cordura fabric for hard-wearing durability.  While quality materials and technologies are at the heart of our product range, product design and choice has to reflect the environments in which products are worn – whatever the working environment or weather condition – to deliver safety and protection wherever our customers are.

The safety shoe

The newest safety shoes with an E-TPU sole will deliver superb cushioning and comfort all day.  In effect, it returns a ‘bounce back’ which gives a 55% ‘energy return’ that will put a real spring in your step to reduce fatigue and stress on your back, legs and feet.

This kind of shoe should have a stretchable upper with Cordura for water-resistance. This will also give amazing performance when it comes to breathability, fit and flexibility. Importantly, this kind of shoe should have a non-slip sole plus a composite midsole and ideally a heel counter for foot stability.

Naturally the shoe has to have a toe-cap, but look for the new Nano toe-cap. It’s 40% stronger than fiberglass, lighter than other materials, and thinner than other non-metallic toe-caps. 

The athletic safety trainer

Ideal for workers who are constantly on the move, this kind of safety shoe should have a lightweight athletic look and fully compliant safety features. 

The shoe’s midsole should be made of a poured PU rather than a traditional injected PU to give a more cushioned feel underfoot. A thick rubber outsole will provide a high level of anti-slip protection. 

Boa comfort fastening and lightweight but durable uppers will deliver a better overall fit, making it easy to take the shoe on and off, especially when going in and out of people’s homes.

The shoe should also have a fibreglass toecap which, together with the ballistic midsole, will combine with the other protection features and anti-static properties to deliver S3 protection.

The safety boot


Given the wear and tear they have to put up with, feet deserve better than a cheap boot. For maximum comfort, protection, and durability look for a technical safety boot that integrates modern design to deliver water protection, comfort and a sporty look. 

A waterproof and breathable Gore-Tex lining will keep feet dry and comfortable, while a Vibram outsole and Cordura Ripstop fabric in the uppers offer great protection and ruggedness. A fibreglass toe-cap will also ensure fully compliant protection. The BOA closure system means  pressure will be distributed evenly across your feet for maximum comfort, ensure a glove-like fit and keep feet dry, warm and comfortable.


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