HSfB Blog

Electrical hazards: Making sense of foot protection ratings

Whether you work with electricity on a daily basis or are thinking about starting a personal project that could bring you into contact with electrical currents, it’s important to make sure you’re properly protected against the risks.  

 

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One of the most important pieces of protective equipment you can wear is footwear. Different boots offer protection against different things so your footwear should address the specific hazards you could face.

 

But when shopping for the right boots it can be tricky to know exactly what kind you need - conductive, non-conductive, anti-static…just what does it all mean? To help you make your decision we’re going to explain exactly what these different terms mean and what situations they’re intended for.

 

Non-conductive footwear:

Shoes and boots sold as “non-conductive” are intended to help ground electricity in the event of accidental contact with live charges. Essentially, non-conductive footwear acts as an insulator to stop your body becoming part of an electrical circuit.

 

Many people assume that in order for a work boot to be non-conductive it can’t contain any metal elements like steel midsoles or toe caps. This isn’t the case. Metal elements found in non-conductive boots are properly insulated with materials that don’t conduct electricity, such as leather or rubber. So it is possible to find footwear that has protective metal elements and still provides protection against accidental contact with live charges.

 

An important thing to remember is that non-conductive footwear isn’t suitable in situations that require anti-static properties, i.e. where it is necessary to reduce the build-up of static electricity on the body. For protection against a build-up of static electricity and a reasonable, though reduced, level of protection against electrocution you’ll need anti-static footwear. (see below)

 

Conductive footwear

Conductive footwear is made from materials that offer no electrical resistance. Basically, they are boots that allow electricity to flow through them. They are intended for use in situations where a build-up of static electricity on the body would be dangerous.

 

These kind of shoes should be worn in highly flammable and explosive environments where it is necessary to protect against the possibility of a static spark. In these environments, a build-up of static electricity on the body, and the subsequent static spark that would occur when the person touches something metal, could cause an explosion.

 

Conductive footwear protects against this by allowing static electricity to travel out of the body and into the ground. It is important to remember that conductive footwear should not be worn where there is any electrical hazard as they offer no protection against electrocution if the wearer comes into contact with live charges.

 

Anti-static footwear

Anti-static footwear, sometimes called static-dissipating footwear, is designed to be worn in non-explosive environments where a significant amount of static electricity is generated.

 

They work in a similar way to conductive footwear in that they allow static electricity to leave the body and dissipate into the ground but they do not achieve this as quickly or as completely as conductive footwear and are therefore not suitable for explosive or highly flammable environments.

 

Anti-static footwear can offer a certain amount of protection against contact with live charges as they are moderately insulating. It’s important to note, however, while non-conductive footwear is intended to protect against shock from electrical outlets of up to 600v, anti-static footwear is only intended to protect against shocks of up to 240v, making them much less insulating.

 

This type of protective footwear is suitable for working in non-explosive environments sensitive to static electricity but where there is a risk of contact with live electrical charges no greater that 240v. As well as traditional work boots, anti-static footwear is also available in a range of more formal styles.