FAQs on Safety Footwear (Standards, Classifications, Features, Maintenance, Etc)

Here is a quick checklist for when you are buying or taking care of your next gumboots / steel caps / work boots.

In this article, we answer these questions:


Is all ‘safety footwear’ the same?

Not really. AS 2210:2019 (more below) classifies them as follows:

Footwear  Primary function  Features  Application 
Safety  Protect the wearer's feet from significant impact, compression and potentially other hazards  Must include a protective toe cap(usually steel) able to withstand a minimum of 200 joules of impact force  Industries with potential foot injury -- such as construction, manufacturing, warehousing, mining and other heavy-duty industries -- where the risk of foot injuries from falling object, crushing, or equipment is high 
Protective  Similar to safety footwear, but offers various levels of protection depending on the specific needs of the workplace  Must also include a protective toe cap, but the impact resistance requirement may be lower than safety footwear 
May also include penetration-resistant soles, metatarsal guards, electrical hazard resistance and other specialised features designed for specific work hazards 
Industries with potential for foot injury but where risks may be less severe than those requiring full safety footwear 
Occupational  General use in workplaces with minimal hazards to the feet  Protective toe cap not required

Focuses on general comfort, slip-resistance and support

May include water resistance and other helpful features depending on the work environment. 
Industries with minimal potential for foot injury – such as healthcare, hospitality, food service and offices 


What is the Australian Standard for safety footwear? 

The active, current and primary standard for safety footwear in Australia is AS 2210:2019, which is an adaption of ISO 20345:2011 (now superseded by ISO 20345:2021), focusing on the safety requirements for occupational footwear (and ensuring workplaces provide adequate foot protection to workers accordingly). To be more specific: 

  • AS 2210.3:2019 SAFETY Footwear specifies basic and additional (optional) requirements for safety protective footwear used for general purpose and covers exposure to mechanical risks (from impact, compression, punctures etc), slip resistance, thermal risks (insulation or resistance to heat and cold) and ergonomic behaviour etc.
  • AS 2210.5: 2019 OCCUPATIONAL Footwear specifies basic and additional (optional) requirements for occupational footwear that is not exposed to any mechanical risks (impact or compression). 

Note for Western Australia: While most relevant AS/NZS 2210:2009 designations / publications are already superseded by the 2019 publication, the Australian Business Licence and Information Service (ABLIS) site for Western Australia still refers to the AS / NZS 2009 and AS / NZS 2210 standards. 

Limits: Footwear meeting the AS 2210.3:2019 guidelines might not be enough for environments with additional hazards, chemical exposure and extreme temperatures. 

Other standards: Some brands – such as the Mack work boots AIMS sells -- also indicate American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM 2413) standards on top of the AS/NZS 2210 and ISO 20345 standards mentioned above.


What about the ‘S’ classifications / safety ratings?

Aside from the standards mentioned above, safety footwear in Australia is also classified according to EN/ISO20345-specified protection features, with the main and most common standard of AS/NZS 2210.3:2019 (Occupational protective footwear) specifying three main classifications as:

  • S1: Good for dry indoor or outdoor work where toe protection and basic slip resistance are needed
  • S2: Same as S1, but for environments where water exposure is likely
  • S3: Best for jobs with a risk of punctures from below (e.g., construction sites with nails) and wet conditions

Other classifications: Here is a complete list from the most basic SB down to S5 and everything in between:

Class Protection Features
  Toe protection Anti-static Heel energy absorption Closed seat heel Fuel and oil resistance Peneration resistance Puncture resistance Water resistance Note
SB --- --- --- --- --- --- --- ---
S1 --- --- --- ---
S1P In the mid-sole --- ---
S2 --- --- In the upper ---
S3 In the mid-sole --- --- ---
S4 --- --- Fully waterproof Uppper can be made of a fully-molded material like rubber
S5 In the mid-sole Fully waterproof Uppper can be made of a fully-molded material like rubber

Note: Although based on ISO 20345, the AS/NZS 2210:2009 standard does not have S6 and S7 classifications. Nevertheless, some manufacturers might still use these terms to categorise their footwear features, particularly if they sell internationally.

Important: Additional safety features might be needed for specific hazards. For example, metatarsal guards offer protection to the top of the foot. For electrical dangers, look for electrical hazard (EH) rated footwear, like this Mack Titan II.


How should safety footwear fit?

Ill-fitting safety footwear can cause blisters, discomfort and even contribute to injuries. Improper sizing can also compromise the effectiveness of the safety features. Make sure your work boots have:

  • Enough wiggle room for your toes
  • Firm yet comfortable heel support
  • No excessive pressure points anywhere on your feet


How do I maintain (and when should I replace) them?

To care for your work boots, make sure to:

  • Follow the manufacturer's cleaning instructions
  • Store in a cool, dry place
  • Regularly inspect for damage or wear

It’s time to replace them when:

  • The tread pattern is worn down
  • There are visible signs of damage (cracks, punctures etc)
  • The inner lining is deteriorated
  • The footwear no longer fits correctly


Are regular shoes with added steel toe caps just as good?

No. Shoes not specifically designed and designated as safety footwear lack the structural integrity and other safety features required by the Australian Standard.


How bad could it be if I don’t wear them?

Here are various potential injuries from not wearing proper safety footwear at work:

Impact and crushing injuries

  • Broken toes and foot bones: Heavy objects falling directly on the feet can cause severe fractures and crushing.
  • Foot amputation: In extreme cases, heavy objects or machinery can crush the feet to the extent that amputation is necessary.

Puncture injuries

  • Puncture wounds: Sharp objects such as nails, glass or metal can penetrate the sole of regular shoes, piercing the feet and causing deep, painful wounds.
  • Infection: Puncture wounds carry a high risk of infection, which can lead to further complications.

Slip, trip and fall injuries (Here’s how to prevent them in the workplace.)

  • Sprains and strains: Inadequate grip or lack of proper ankle support can lead to sprains or strains in the ankles, feet or even knees.
  • Fractures: Slips and falls can result in broken bones in the feet, legs and hips.
  • Head injuries: Severe falls caused by a slip due to improper footwear can cause concussions or other head injuries.

Foot fatigue and long-term issues

  • Blisters and calluses: Constant pressure and friction from ill-fitting shoes can lead to painful blisters and calluses.
  • Plantar Fasciitis: Lack of arch support and cushioning can contribute to this painful inflammation of the foot's connective tissue.
  • Musculoskeletal problems: Over time, foot fatigue and improper support can lead to pain and issues in the knees, hips, and back.

Other risks

  • Burns: Lack of heat-resistant or chemical-resistant footwear leaves your feet vulnerable to burns from hot substances or spills.
  • Electrical shock: Non-conductive footwear won't protect against accidental contact with live electrical circuits.

industrial supplies sydney