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All about steel toed safety boots

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A pair of well-worn steel-toe shoes

A pair of ISO 20345:2004 compliant S3 safety boots

A steel-toe boot (also known as a safety boot, steel-capped boot or safety shoe) is a durable boot or shoe that has a protective reinforcement in the toe which protects the foot from falling objects or compression, usually combined with a mid sole plate to protect against punctures from below.

Although traditionally made of steel, the reinforcement can also be made of a composite material, a plastic such as thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU) or even aluminium. Steel-toe boots are important in the construction industry and in many industrial settings. Occupational safety and health legislation or insurance requirements may require the use of such boots in some settings, and may mandate certification of such boots and the display of such certification directly on the boots. The markings on the boot label will indicate the national or international standards that the boot was intended to meet, and identify the level of protection offered for impact, penetration, electric shock, and chemical hazards. Footwear for use in chemical processing or semiconductor manufacturing may also be rated to dissipate static electricity while still protecting the wearer from electric shock.

Safety footwear now comes in many styles, including sneakers and clogs. Some are quite formal, for supervising engineers who must visit sites where protective footwear is mandatory.

Some brands of steel-toe footwear have become fashionable within subcultures such as skinhead, punk, and rivethead. While brands that were previously renowned within the fashion industry have also diversified into the safety footwear market, industrial brands like Caterpillar, Rock Fall and JCB have also issued licenses to produce safety footwear.


Most safety shoes have symbols on the outside, to indicate the protection the shoe offers.

Examples are:

  • Green Triangle indicates that it is a class 1 toe cap with puncture resistant sole.
  • Yellow Triangle indicates that it is a class 2 toe cap with puncture resistant sole.
  • White Square (with ohm symbol) indicates electrical protection.
  • Yellow Square (with SD) indicates anti-static protection.
  • Red Square (with C) indicates electrically conductive.
  • Fir Tree indicates protection against chain-saws.

United States
In the United States, the applicable standard for protective footwear is ASTM standards F 2412-05, Standard Test Methods for Foot Protection and ASTMF 2413-05, Standard Specification for Performance Requirements for Foot Protection.

OSHA requires compliance of ANSI Z41.1-1991, "American National Standard for Personal Protection-Protective Footwear," if purchased after July 5, 1994, or ANSI standard "USA Standard for Men's Safety-Toe Footwear," Z41.1-1967, if purchased before.

California has updated its regulations with the new 2005 ASTM standards F 2412-05, Standard Test Methods for Foot Protection and ASTM F 2413-05, Standard Specification for Performance Requirements for Foot Protection.

The Canadian Standards Association (CSA) have been using symbols on safety footwear for more than 30 years. Each shape & colour represents specific safety criteria for all safety footwear and apparel purchased in Canada. (A useful chart is available on-line describing the CSA symbols)

  • Green Triangle with CSA symbol - Sole puncture protection with a Grade 1 protective toe. (Heavy work environment: construction; machine shops; where sharp objects are present)
  • Yellow Triangle with registered symbol - Sole puncture protection with a Grade 2 protective toe. (Light industrial work environments)
  • White rectangle with orange Greek letter "Omega" & CSA symbol - Soles that provide electric shock resistance. (Any industrial environment where live electrical conductors can occur)
  • Yellow rectangle with green letters "SD", a grounding symbol & CSA symbol - Capable of dissipating an electrostatic charge in a controlled manner. (Any industrial environment where a static discharge can be a hazard for workers or equipment)
  • Red rectangle with a black letter "C", grounding symbol & CSA symbol - Soles that are electrically conductive (Any industrial environment where low-lower electrical charges can be a hazard for workers or equipment)
  • White label with green fir tree symbol & CSA symbol - Provides protection when using chainsaws. (Forestry workers & others required to use a chainsaw)
  • Blue Square with CSA symbol - Grade 1 protective toe only. (For all other environments not listed above)

Generally, a safety shoe is a shoe that follows at least one of five criteria. The criteria that a safety shoe adheres to can be found by looking for the CSA (Canadian Standards Association) alphanumerical code found inside the shoe. This code is made up of a combination of 5 different symbols:

  • 1, 2 or 0;
  • P or 0;
  • M or 0;
  • E, S or C;
  • X or 0.
  1. The first code indicates if the shoe has a steel-toe cap (a metal shell embedded on top of the toes part of the shoe). "0" means there is none. "1" means that there is, and it resists an impact of 125 joules (22.7 kg object falling from 56 cm above). "2" means that it resists an impact of 90 joules.
  2. The second code indicates if the shoe has soles that protect the arches of the feet from punctures. "P" means it does. "O" means it doesn't.
  3. The third code indicates if the shoe has a metatarsus protection against shocks and collisions. "M" means it does. "O" doesn't.
  4. The fourth code indicates the shoe's electrical properties. "E" means it resists electrical shocks. "S" means it disperses static electrical. "C" means it conducts electricity.
  5. This last code is found only on shoes that protect the foot from chainsaws, i.e. chainsaw boots. "X" it does, "O" does not.


A pair of ISO 20345:2004 compliant A anti-static shoes

A pair of ISO 20345:2004 compliant S3 safety shoes

A pair of ISO 20345:2004 compliant S3 HRO HI CI FPA safety boots for firefighters

The International Organization for Standardization provides the European standard for Safety footwear. The current one is ISO 20345:2004 - previously BS EN 345-1:1993.

There is also EN ISO 20346:2004 for protective footwear (must comply to basic safety requirements but toe cap impact resistance requirement is lower - 100 Joules) & EN ISO 20347:2004 for Occupational Footwear (must comply to basic safety requirements with anti static or slip resistant properties. This standard does not require a protective toe cap)

Safety shoe standards in Asia are:
China: GB 21148 & An1, An2, An3, An4, An5
Indonesia: SNI 0111:2009
Japan: JIS T8101
Malaysia: SIRIM MA 1598:1998
Singapore: SS 513-1:2005
India: JAS-ANZ ISO 9001:2000
Thailand: TIS 523-2011
Australia / New Zealand
Australia: AS/NZS 2210.3:2009


Steel-toe boots have been used in assaults, such as the attack on Josie Lou Ratley, a Florida teenager. Nightclubs and other entertainment venues frequently include a "no steel toecaps" rule as part of their dress code to mitigate the possibility of serious injury to other patrons if the wearer becomes violent. Use of bovver boots in football hooliganism was countered by warnings to fans that they would have to remove such boots in order to attend football matches.

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