Life on an oil rig can be tough enough without footwear that lacks the comfort, protection and durability to handle the rigorous demands placed on the wearer day-in and day-out. Just like other forms of personal protective equipment (PPE) — hard hats, eye protection, gloves and aprons — picking the right footwear for the job is essential.
What should you look for in selecting a boot that’s sturdy, safe and comfortable — one you can wear throughout long shifts without taxing your feet or rubbing them raw?
Consider these six characteristics when picking out your next pair:
Type of Toe Cap
Boots reinforced with hard toe caps are required for use on oil rigs due to the risk of heavy machinery or sharp metal objects striking the foot resulting in injury.
The three most common types of work boot toe caps are steel, composite and aluminum. All three are OSHA-approved and protect against impact.
Steel toes provide the best puncture protection but can be heavy. Composite toe boots, made from materials such as plastic, carbon fiber and rubber, are lightweight yet durable. Aluminum toes offer another choice for lightweight protection while still meeting ANSI/ASTM safety standards.
Slips and falls are responsible for some of the most common oil right injuries, so it makes sense to find a boot that has soles with a tread pattern and outsole material designed to reduce the chance of slipping.
Of the three kinds of soles on the market — rubber, TPU and EVA — rubber is the most well-suited for use in the oilfield. Its natural gripping property provides resistance to abrasion, oil, sediment and chemicals. TPU also provides resistance to abrasion, oil and chemicals as well, however, and may be a good alternative. EVA soles, while comfortable, are soft and flexible but can compact over time and with wear.
The way the boot is made, how it attaches to the sole and how resistant it is to wear and tear are all important considerations when it comes to making a work boot purchase decision.
Boots construction comes in one of two forms: cement and welt.
Cement construction (also known as direct-attach) involves fastening the upper part of the boot to the sole using molten rubber. Cementing utilizes a durable and flexible adhesive to bond the outsole to the rest of the boot. Boots made this way are also affordable, lightweight and mold to your feet for comfort.
The only problem with this form of construction is that once the sole becomes damaged or starts to separate from the boot, it’s not easy to repair, which means you may have to replace the entire boot.
Boots constructed using welting, where a sturdy strip of leather, rubber or plastic is stitched to the upper part of the boot and sole, make for a better-made, albeit more expensive boot. For the oilfield, it is likely the better option that direct-attach construction due to its ability to withstand wear and tear.
There are two welting versions: Blake and Goodyear.
Blake welting wraps the upper around the insole and attaches it to the outsole by a single stitch. Goodyear welting or double-stitched is the oldest method and uses two-level stitching, which results in the most durable (though also most costly) boots.
Welting construction allows boots to be re-soled or repaired, thus extending the life of the footwear.
While you must factor in the choice of the toe cap, type of sole and construction into consideration, if, at the end of the workday, your feet are sore or blistered due to an ill-fitting boot, you haven’t helped yourself.
So, add to the list of characteristics the need for a comfortable boot that conforms (as much as possible) to the shape of your foot. The good news is that boots come in a broad range of sizes, include regular and wide widths and have extra padding. When trying on the boot for the time, you want it to feel snug but not too tight.
Designed for Safety
To be on the safe side, only purchase boots that are OSHA-approved. That ensures they comply with standards set by the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) and by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI).
Tips for Boot Buying
Keep these tips from BeThePro.com, a construction industry resource site, in mind when shopping for your next pair of work boots:
- Do your research first. Find out what PPE your job requires before making a purchase. Also, talk with industry peers to learn what they recommend.
- Shop for boots in the afternoon or early evening. Feet tend to swell throughout the day, so try on footwear in the afternoon or evening to ensure your work boots will feel comfortable all day.
- Bring your socks. Bring a typical pair of socks that you might wear to understand better how your boots might fit.
Of all the reasons to buy a work boot — comfort, affordability, durability — when it comes to working on an oil rig, always make safety the top priority.
Look for a boot that is OSHA-approved and ASTM-rated, and one that protects your foot against damage from heavy machinery or falling objects, resists slippage and is well-insulated against extreme heat or cold. Don’t let lack of proper footwear be the reason for a fall or other injury even if it means spending a little more. Your feet will thank you for it!