The feet bear the brunt of our daily working life. Working in different settings can lead to prolonged standing, walking, or operating machinery. Wearing high heels for long hours, carrying heavy objects and working on wet, slippery surfaces are just a few of the dangers the feet are exposed to in the workplace.
Every year, it is estimated that two million sick days are lost, due to complaints and disorders in the lower limbs. However, many of these sick days can be prevented. Studies show that about 80 percent of adults will experience some foot complaints during their lifetime. This can vary from aches and pains, swelling, corns, calluses, injuries, fungal infections, varicose veins and much more. These common foot problems occur both on and off the job. However, there are some work-related conditions that can lead to or aggravate foot problems, especially jobs that require long periods of standing or walking that put the feet at risk.
Workers who are required to spend long hours on their feet are at increased risk of pain and discomfort around their feet, legs, hips and lower back. Standing for long hours, day after day, not only tires the worker’s feet but can also cause permanent damage. Continuous standing can cause the joints and bones of the feet to become misaligned causing flat feet, inflammation that can later lead to arthritis, and damage to the veins in the legs leading to pain, swelling, varicose veins and even ulcers. Prolonged standing can damage joints, causing swelling of the legs, and result in a range of problems for the feet, including bunions, corns and heel spurs.
Worksite accidents can also result in a significant number of injuries to the feet and lower legs including sprains, strains and fractures. Foot injuries account for 15 to 20 percent of all disabling injuries. While not all of these are the result of work activities, a large proportion occur, due to the conditions feet are exposed to at work.
Our feet are exposed to many dangers at work and, like every other danger, the risk can be avoided or removed if employees and employers take simple, straightforward steps to protect the feet at work. Comfortable, well-structured, sensible and properly fitted footwear is essential to maintain good foot health and prevent minor foot ailments and injuries at work. Proper footwear is important, not only for foot comfort but also for one’s general well-being. The following are some tips to protect the feet at work:
Choose the best shoes for work: It is important to ensure that the safety of the shoe is appropriate for the task for which it is intended. The shoe upper should be made from natural materials such as leather or a breathable man-made fabric. The toe box area should be rounded or squared and deep enough to prevent rubbing, allowing the toes to wriggle. Insoles can be inserted to provide padding and absorption. The heel should fit snugly on the foot, stopping the heel from slipping out of the shoe. And should have a broad base and be no higher than two inches if they are worn for a long time. The sole should be strong and flexible with shock absorption to cushion the jolts of walking on hard surfaces. Laces, buckles or Velcro should be used to secure the foot in the shoe.
Wear the right shoes for work: Workers should wear the shoes that are appropriate to their occupation, working environment, and foot type. Improper footwear can cause or aggravate existing foot problems. Footwear that fits poorly or is in need of repair also contributes to foot discomfort. Prolonged standing, hard flooring and inappropriate footwear are very common working conditions. If safety or special footwear is required for the job (e.g. steel toe boots), employers must ensure that employees have the correct shoes and are not allowed to work without them. In many worksites, such equipment are supplied by the employer at no cost to the worker.
High heels are the favorite work footwear for many women but should not be: They throw the body weight onto the balls of the feet, which may lead to calluses, painful bunions, corns, neuromas and back pains. The position of the foot in narrow-width high heels can cause the ankle to become unstable, resulting in ankle sprains. Wearing high heels for long periods may cause the calf muscles to become shortened and tight over time. The body compensates for this tightness in the calf muscles by lowering the arch of the foot, or by affecting the knee, hip or back. Backless (sling back) shoes force your toes to claw as you walk, straining the muscles if worn over a long period. To prevent this, keep heel heights to about two inches for everyday use. Calf stretches help to keep the feet supple and maintain a good range of motion to the ankle joint. Vary your heel heights from day to day, one day wearing low heels, and the next day slightly higher heels. Wearing shoes with a strap or lace over the instep is better than slip-ons because they will improve the fit and help stop your foot from sliding forward in your shoes.
Foot-safe worksites: In addition to the footwear, the work surfaces also have an impact on the feet at work. Hard, unyielding floors like concrete are the least comfortable surfaces to work on. Working on a hard floor has the impact of a hammer, pounding the heel at every step. Slippery floors are hazardous, resulting in slips and falls, ankle sprains or even broken bones. Employers should make sure that floors are kept clean and dry, and non-skid floors should be installed.
Standing or working on a hard, unyielding floor such as concrete can cause a lot of discomfort. Wood, cork, carpeting, or rubber – anything that provides some flexibility – are gentler on workers’ feet. Footwear with thick, insulating soles and shock-absorbing insoles can alleviate discomfort. Special anti-slip flooring or matting can reduce slipping accidents.
Most occupations have different footwear requirements – but, in almost all of them, there is a need for well-fitting, supportive shoes and guidelines for safe floor surfaces. Such guidelines should be followed at all times to prevent injuries in the work place.
As adults, we spend long hours at work. This provides opportunity for pain, accidents and injuries. Use these tips to prevent injuries and accidents to the feet while at work.
• For more information, email us at email@example.com or visit www.apma.org. To see a podiatrist, telephone 325-2996 for an appointment, visit Bahamas Foot Centre on Rosetta Street, or call 394-5824 for an appointment; or visit Bahamas Surgical Associates Centre on Hilltop Medical Centre off 4th Terrace Collins Avenue. In Grand Bahama, call Lucayan Medical Centre at 373-7400 for an appointment.