Safety shoes buying guide

Safety shoes buying guide

Sebastian, self-taught DIY-er, Exeter

Guide written by:

Sebastian, self-taught DIY-er, Exeter

Safety shoes are compulsory in many industries. Designed to shield your feet from a variety of hazards, safety shoes can provide protection against compression, punctures, chemicals or slipping. In terms of comfort, you should think about breathability and padding. Read on to find the perfect safety shoes for you.

Important features

  • Material
  • Weight and ergonomics
  • Type of protection
  • Low or high
  • Standards
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What is safety footwear?

An essential part of your Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) safety shoes are required to meet certain quality standards put in place to protect your feet. Foot injuries account for about 7% of accidents in the workplace and can include anything from standing on a sharp object to dropping a heavy item on your foot or slipping.

Safety shoes are compulsory for any activity that presents a risk of injury and the type you use must be suited to the task you are carrying out. The Health and Safety Executive provides employers with guidelines on what kind of safety shoes are required for specific tasks. Employers must ensure all workers are provided with the appropriate PPE and failure to do so can get them in serious trouble.

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Matching your safety shoes to your task

Safety shoes and boots can offer protection against a range of hazards. Depending on the task at hand, safety shoes may protect you against compression, puncture, chemicals, burns, biological hazards or cutting hazards.

The design of the shoe will also differ depending on the types of risks at hand. Some of the main types of safety footwear include:

  • safety shoes;

  • slip-on safety shoes;

  • safety clogs;

  • safety boots;

  • shoe covers.

Each type of shoe is designed to provide specific protection for different types of activity. We automatically think of builders, carpenters, locksmiths, welders, electricians and heavy machinery operators, but factory workers, lab technicians and even chefs need special footwear. Depending on the job guidelines, you may have to wear safety clogs, safety boots, safety shoes or even shoe covers.

In addition to HSE guidelines, it is crucial to wear the most suitable shoes for each task. Of course a carpenter should wear shoes with puncture resistance while a firefighter need shoes that can stand up to a host of dangers. But when wearing safety shoes out of the workplace, you also need to use a bit of common sense.

The wearer needs to consider the following:

  • The climatic conditions in which they will be used (e.g. wet, cold or hot weather);

  • The level of mobility required; of course it's easier to walk all day in lightweight safety shoes;

  • Comfort-enhancing features (e.g. padded heels or padding around the ankles or on the tongue);

  • The breathability of the shoe; determined by the choice of materials.

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Safety footwear standards and S ratings

Standards are used as a guarantee of quality for specific items. In order to choose the right safety shoes, it is essential to consider the requirements of the job and to refer to the recommendations of the Health and Safety Executive. The standard for all safety footwear is EN ISO 20345:2011 which was formerly referred to as EN345. All safety shoes conforming to this standard feature a toecap that offers 200-joules of impact resistance. The EN ISO 20345 standard separates shoes into those made from leather and other materials, and those made of rubber or polymer. It sets out various grades of protection which are denoted by 'S ratings'.


S1 safety footwear is made of leather and other materials (excluding rubber and polymers). S1 safety shoes meet all the basic requirements of safety footwear. Like all safety shoes, they are equipped with a shockproof toe cap able to withstand impacts of up to 200 joules (equivalent to a 20 kg weight dropped 1,020 mm onto the toes) and have passed a 15 kN compression test (equivalent to 1.5 tonnes resting on the toe area). The seat (or heel) of these shoes is fully enclosed and they offer antistatic properties and energy absorption of the seat. An S4 rubber or polymer boot offers roughly the same protection as an S1 footwear.


S2 safety shoes offer the same protection as S1 shoes. However, they also offer water penetration and absorption resistance.


S3 safety shoes have the same requirements as S2 shoes with the addition of a penetration resistant midsole and a cleated outsole.

Slips in the workplace account for around 31% of non-fatal injuries. In fact, slip resistance is so important, it has its own set of ratings set out according to three test methods:

  • SRA: Tested on ceramic tile with sodium lauryl sulphate (a diluted soap solution)

  • SRB: Tested on steel with glycerol

  • SRC: Tested under SRA and SRB conditions

Safety footwear can offer more specific types of protection. These ratings are denoted by letters and are described below.

EN ISO 20345 codes for safety footwear

Safety shoes


Corresponding letter(s)

EN ISO 20345

Antistatic (dissipates electrostatic charges)


Soles with electrical resistance lower than 100 kW


Cold-insulated shoes


Cut resistant upper


Energy absorption


Fuel/oil-resistant outsole


Heat contact resistant outsoles


Penetration resistance


Anti-slip soles


Anti-slip soles on tiled floor


Anti-slip soles on steel floor


Water resistance


Water penetration and water absorption resistant upper


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Safety shoes vs. work shoes: what's the difference?

Unlike safety shoes, work shoes do not have to provide the key features that safety footwear is required to have. Shoes described as protective footwear must conform to the standard ISO 20346:2011, the basic requirement of which is a 100 joule toe cap. Occupational footwear must conform to the standard ISO 20347:2012, but do not require any toe protection at all.

While protective or occupational shoes are likely to be lightweight, comfortable and offer some protective features, they will not protect you in the same way as a safety shoe.

6 safety shoe ratings







Safety Basic: comfort, strength, professional use, features toe protection

Fully enclosed heel, antistatic, seat energy absorption, oil resistant

Prevents water penetration

Mid-sole penetration resistance, cleated outsoles

For rubber and polymer boots: Leak-proof, anti-static, energy absorption at seat, fully enclosed heel

Leak-proof with midsole penetration resistance, cleated outsoles

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How to choose the right safety shoes

Choosing the perfect safety shoes all comes down to asking yourself the right questions. How do you intend to use your safety shoes? What are the legal requirements in terms of protection?And what level of comfort are you after? Luckily, standards are in place to help you answer these questions.

Safety footwear comparison

Shoe type



Other factors

Popular brands

Average price

Safety shoes


A, E, FO, 200 joule toe cap




Shoe laces


Sole design

Low or high
















Starting from £20


A, E, FO, WRU, 200 joule toe cap

Starting from £35


A, E, FO, WRU, P

Starting from £50


A, E, FO, WRU if shoe is polymer + 200 joule toe cap

Starting from £20


A, E, FO, WRU if shoe  is polymer + 200 joule toe cap 

Occupational footwear (work shoes without toe protection)


A, E, FO

Starting from £20



Starting from £30


A, E, FO, WRU, P

Starting from £40


Starting from £20


Safety shoes and comfort

Once you've identified your needs and the hazards and risks associated with your workplace, you can think about picking the most comfortable shoes possible. The two key deciding factors when it comes to footwear are comfort and safety.

While safety must always come first, selecting shoes with special padding and features will provide you with unbeatable comfort. You'll never regret investing ergonomically designed, padded insoles that mould to the shape of your feet! It's also a good idea to look for breathable insoles with antibacterial or antifungal protection.

Safety shoes designed for women tend to be lighter, narrower and better suited to the anatomy of women's feet.

Remember that a breathable shoe with antibacterial protection and an ergonomic design will provide better protection to your feet.

How to make safety shoes more comfortable

Once you have selected your shoes, there are a few things you can do to make the shoe more comfortable to wear. Here are four tips to make your safetyshoes more supple (particularly leather shoes):

  1. Fill your safety shoes with rolled up newspaper. Stuff it down until it is compact and pressing on the sides of the shoes. Leave the paper in for several hours before removing it.

  2. Insert a wooden shoe tree into the shoes and gradually expand the tree.

  3. Apply Vaseline to the tongue and 'break in' the shoes by gently kneading them.

  4. Half fill sealable plastic bags with water and place them inside the safety shoes before putting the shoes in the freezer. As the water freezes, it increases in volume which will help to relax the leather.  

When wearing your safety shoes for the first time, it's advisable to wear thick socks to protect your feet from blisters or rubbing.

More information

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Guide written by:

Sebastian, self-taught DIY-er, Exeter

Sebastian, self-taught DIY-er, Exeter

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