Feet at work
Your feet can take a pounding in the workplace. The daily demands of your job may include walking, standing for long periods, lifting and jumping on and off machinery. While you are working your feet may absorb up to three times your body weight and working feet can travel up to 24 kilometres a day!
The work environment itself can create health risks for your feet. Hazardous conditions, such as oily and slippery floors, wet conditions or extreme heat or cold – put feet at risk of injury and can lead to foot problems.
Stress fractures, sprains, strains, corns, calluses, ingrown toenails, chilblains, and tinea are some of the foot problems that can occur or be aggravated at work.
Calluses, corns and blisters can be caused by pressure of incorrectly fitting shoes.
Arch pain or pain in the ball of the foot or heel may be related to muscle strain, which is associated with poor foot posture. Improving foot posture with more appropriate footwear and possibly specially-made insoles will reduce the strain. It is important to seek help for all foot ailments, including sore and tired feet.
In almost every workplace there is the risk of trips, slips and falls, or objects falling or rolling onto feet. Be aware of foot hazards and use foot-safe work practices and wear the necessary footwear to protect your feet.
Regardless of your workplace, comfortable, properly fitted footwear is essential in maintaining foot health. Appropriate footwear can protect your feet by insulating them against cold, preventing them from getting wet or by cushioning them from the impact of your job.
In many workplaces, safety shoes or boots are necessary to protect against environmental risks. Boots need to be comfortable and correctly fitted and you should always have your feet measured. Remember that the length, width and depth of your foot should all be considered.
Foot care in the workplace
As an employer you can prevent foot problems at work by:
- Promoting foot health in your workplace.
- Contracting a podiatrist to give a talk on foot care to employees.
- Encouraging your staff members to report foot problems, however minor (e.g. safety shoes that rub).
- Looking at the foot health record of your company – multiple foot complaints may suggest the workplace itself is creating foot problems.
- Doing a ‘foot risk assessment’ in the workplace – look for ways to minimise the burden on your employees’ feet (a podiatrist will be able to assist you in assessing this risk).
- Emphasising to the safety officer or occupational physician that foot complaints should be taken seriously.
- Making sure you stock an adequate range of safety shoes (if applicable) to suit every staff member. If not, outsourcing the supply and fit of safety shoes may be more cost-effective.
- Allowing employees a crossover period when they exchange their old safety shoes for a new pair.
As an employee, you can maintain your foot health by:
- Being aware of the hazards in your workplace. If you have concerns about foot safety, alert your workplace representative or your employer.
- Reporting any foot pain or discomfort to your employer or safety officer.
- Making sure your shoes fit for your workplace (e.g. safety shoes if applicable). • Remembering that feet shouldn’t hurt. Sore feet are a sign of problems.
- Visiting a podiatrist if you have foot problems.