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Standing up for health and safety

They say to truly understand a person you have to ‘walk a mile in their shoes’ but what if that results in hot and swollen toes, aching joints, blisters and fatigue? The chances are, whilst the label on the footwear might claim ‘safety boots’, the reality is that wearing ill conceived, badly designed and poor fitting ‘safety’ boots is far from safe and certainly a long way from healthy.

“They say the effects of fatigue is the accident that never gets reported,” Paul Wilson of Rock Fall UK warns. If anyone understands this it is Wilson and his colleagues at this second generation, family business that prides itself on developing innovative solutions to the problem of marrying comfort and durability in safety footwear.

Indeed, safety footwear is all that Rock Fall has been producing for the past twenty years so the company is completely focussed on designing and manufacturing the highest quality products for the harshest of environments – notably the foundry industry. “If you start with comfort and durability and work from there you have footwear that can be comfortably worn for long periods, which means accidents can be avoided,” Wilson tells Foundry Trade Journal.

Foundry-specific and lightweight

He and his colleagues are enthusiastic and excited about the possibilities to further develop an already award-winning range of options and they are buoyant about their recent success at the Cast Metals Industry Awards, where the company was shortlisted in the Innovation category for a newly developed ultra-lightweight, foundry-specific, boot that has withstood testing at William Lee foundry in the UK where the boot underwent various molten metal splash and crush tests, including being submerged in a furnace at 1500°C. All parts of the boot were tested to destruction to give a true analysis of what each part could withstand. To view the results, visit:

Available in high leg or short leg format, the boot is considered the lightest possible foundry boot available and it seems the industry has embraced it with open arms (and happy feet)!

The devil it seems is in the detail as Wilson explains: “Two thirds of our range, including the new boot, have fibreglass toecaps, which are only 20g lighter than steel but the difference is much more noticeable than you would think because that slight difference in weight makes a huge difference to the balancing of the footwear.”

The other notable factors are that the fibreglass toecap is larger than a steel one, resulting in 20 per cent more space for toes, which again helps with the comfort factor, and the fibreglass does not get hot like steel toecaps do, thus reducing the chance of blisters developing.

Spoken almost like a foundryman, Wilson talks about how important it is to understand material and how it reacts in various conditions. Rock Fall appreciates that true composites offer the same protection value but more flexibility than steel as does Kevlar – a new “star” in the midsole world. Kevlar is comfortable, breathable and flexible so the foot can bend – a bonus in hot environments where the wearer needs to move around with ease, climbing over things and on their feet all day.

“Foundry workers spend all day in a micro climate, which is why we have to ensure that comfort and breathability are high on the list of priorities,” Wilson explains.

The Kevlar midsole is teamed with an open cell footbed and foam-padded lining to help wick away moisture. All the leather – still the most robust and comfortable material for the main body of the boot – is triple stitched for durability.

Grip to avoid slip

“People often only ask if a product has a toecap, mid-sole and good slip resistance. However, this is far from all we have to think about it. If you are uncomfortable, you are more likely to trip or slip,” Wilson says.

Such is the quality of the grip of the FORCE10® outsole used by Rock Fall that when tested against stringent SRC slip resistance standards the following results were recorded:  

SRA Heel 0.45 = 60.71 per cent higher than EN req. 0.28
SRA Flat Contact 0.43 = 34 per cent higher than EN req. 0.32
SRB Heel 0.14 = 8 per cent higher than EN req. 0.13
SRB Flat Contact 0.19 = 5 per cent higher than EN req. 0.18

Whilst attention is paid to accidents, it is evident that Rock Fall has been concerned about health and wellbeing for some time, which is why their research and development has concentrated largely on preventing issues such as musco-skeletal disorders, Achilles tendon injuries and cruciate ligament problems.

Richard Heath, health and safety specialist at the Cast Metals Federation is particularly keen to highlight the ongoing benefits of appropriate footwear in the foundry sector. “We are aware of some foundrymen who have been signed off from their podiatrist because they have been using these new boots. That is a real result for everyone.”

This innovative company has around one thousand pairs of various safety boots in foundries, of which 20 per cent are outside the UK. The company has an agile distribution network and can supply quickly with almost half of the range starting from size three. Such is the company’s heritage in the industry and their understanding of the complexities that, when designing any footwear, they think about the shape of a foot as well as the size to take into account a wide variety of dilemmas; adding up to a winning combination of ease of use and fit for purpose.

Stepping into the future

Rock Fall is currently trialling another new boot to tackle metatarsal problems. “It is amazing that it is increasingly difficult to access data on metatarsal injuries. These figures were available in the 1950s but not anymore,” Wilson says.

So, what are the limitations you might ask? Apparently, no matter how light you make a boot, Wilson says some people will still pick it up and say “can’t you make it lighter?” Current materials mean there is still a trade-off between shock absorption and breathability. However, Wilson tells us, the Kevlar midsole in combination with the breathable footbed is a good compromise.

You can be sure of one thing – Rock Fall will continue to develop technology that keeps us ALL on our toes for a very long time to come.

Contact: Paul Wilson, Rock Fall UK, Major House Unit 1/3, Wimsey Way, Alfreton, Derbyshire DE55 4LS UK. Tel: +44 (0) 1773 600075, email: [email protected] web: Facebook: @rockfallsafetyboots

The heart and ‘sole’ of the community

Rock Fall is working alongside other community minded companies and individuals to help solve a serious footwear problem in the UK. Paul Wilson explains: “Around 250,000 homeless adults and four million under privileged schoolchildren in the UK are wearing the wrong size shoes – imagine the difference we could make to their lives if we supplied the correct size shoes to them for free?”

Shoe Aid – A Step Forward, a registered Charity in England and Wales is a campaign to change this. They accept donated shoes of all sizes and types, including safety wear. The charity then grades, cleans and repairs the shoes before ensuring they are donated to worthy recipients.

“If you are living on the street, the chances are you rarely remove your shoes,” Wilson says. “Imagine how much better someone would feel if the shoes they were wearing didn’t have holes in them or give them blisters. Also, children would be able to concentrate more and achieve more in school if they were wearing the correct sized shoes.”

To learn more about Shoe Aid – A Step Forward visit: