In an odd bit of irony, OSHA (the Occupational Safety and Health Administration) has found that the healthcare industry has become one of the least healthy places to work. A study the agency released last year reports that the number of work-related injuries and illnesses among employees of U.S. hospitals is nearly twice the average overall rate for private industry. For healthcare managers and administrators this presents a large challenge in terms of both productivity and potential liability risks. Also, in response to these findings OSHA is planning to step up on-site inspections of hospitals, nursing homes and other healthcare facilities.
While many factors contribute to these statistics, one area of growing concern is the footwear worn by healthcare employees. Shoes are particularly important to the health and safety of healthcare workers, first of all because of the extended hours they typically spend on their feet. Without proper footwear, the entire body can be stressed by this daily routine, leading to a range of musculoskeletal issues, especially in situations where repeated lifting is involved, which for many healthcare workers can occur several times a day as they move patients in and out of beds or gurneys. But other direct hazards to which their feet are subjected include dropped needles, heavy rolling equipment, sharp instruments like scalpels, possible slips and trips, and exposure to blood-borne contaminants.
So it is not surprising that across the industry greater attention is being paid to what is on employees’ feet. A few of the basic requirements healthcare staff need to look for in shoes are:
- Comfort – Although this may seem obvious, comfort is a good indication that your feet and therefore your body are getting proper support. Moreover, you should feel that comfort not only in your feet, but up your legs and through your back. It’s also important that footwear not only starts out comfortable but that it remains comfortable throughout the day and through weeks and months of wear. Once a pair of shoes stops being comfortable toss them. To get that comfort and support avoid shoes with heels that are either too high or too low. High heels are out, but so are overly flat shoes. A good heel height is between 1″ and 1½”. Look for shoes that have an EVA (ethylene-vinyl acetate) insole, the material used in most running shoes.
- Anti-slip Soles – Tripping and slipping in a hospital environment not only puts you at risk, but it can greatly increase the potential for serious injury to patients and coworkers. Wearing shoes with a good grip on smooth indoor surfaces is vital to avoid slips. Keep in mind that these surfaces may also be wet at times, so additional traction is important. The best way to avoid tripping is to make sure that your shoes are a good fit, with rounded toes. Avoid pointed-toe shoes.
- Protection against Fluids – Although it’s important to have shoes that breathe, so that your feet stay dry, avoid shoes that allow easy penetration of any of the potentially dangerous fluids that are found in healthcare environments. Look for shoes that let the sweat from your feet work its way out but won’t let that vial of blood you might drop work its way in. This means that you want shoes that completely cover your feet and that are nearly waterproof. They should also be easily cleaned, in the case of a spill, so you should avoid shoes with suede or thick woven uppers.
Given the vast range of footwear choices on the market today it should be possible without too much research or effort for each healthcare employee to find the right shoe. While appreciating all of the cultural meaning that is attached to the term “the right shoe”, it still remains entirely possible these days to buy footwear that offers safety and comfort while preserving the ability to look stylish and professional on the job—which if done well, will also surely keep them on the job and not out of work. Have you struggled to find the right footwear, or maybe you’ve found the Holy Grail of shoes – let us know your thoughts!
Dave Sinclair, CEO The WorkPlace Solution