Welding and cutting are very tough on footwear. Red-hot sparks and slag will continuously be raining down on them finding every nook and cranny to land in. That would include shoe tops if that is what you happen to be wearing. Since shoes can be expensive and the skin on feet burns rather easily, let’s make sure we are wearing boots tucked up under a good pair of 100% cotton pants. The pant legs will keep all the hot steel out of your boots, therefore eliminating painful burns.
What kind of boots are best for welding?
If you are not working for a company that mandates your boots be lace-ups then slip on boots may be the most trouble-free. Lace-up boots, while better for ankle support will experience burnt up laces rather frequently. There is nothing more aggravating than hearing that snap when lacing up while preparing to get to work. And, unless you have a spare set of laces handy you may go without lacing them up fully or wear something inferior that day. There are some shielding devices designed to protect laces that work well if you are simply more comfortable wearing lace-ups. Comfort is a big factor as well.
When it comes to material for your slip-on boots nothing comes close to leather. Most of the sparks and slag will slide off leather boots unable to find many places to become trapped. It is when those little red steel balls of fire get trapped that they do the most damage. The damage may not be evident right away but when enough material is burnt up over time something is going to break or come apart.
Red-hot sparks and slag are not the only hazards your footwear will encounter. Punctures from falling steel or sharp cut off pieces laying on the floor are best deflected by high-quality leather topped boots.
Do welders need steel-toed boots?
If you are a commercial welder then the answer is a resounding yes. More than likely your employer mandates them. However, the term, “Welder,” is loosely defined as, “Anyone who welds.” That could be anyone from a pipeline welder to an artisan who never works with materials weighing more than a couple of pounds. So the answer isn’t an easy one. However, the default answer is yes, welders do need steel-toed or composite-toed boots to protect their feet. If not mandated, it is up to the individual welder to decide if the risk of not wearing steel-toed boots is worth it. If in doubt it is best to err on the safe side.
Do welders need non-conductive boots?
Non-conductive boots, also known as EH, which stands for Electrical Hazard boots are recommended for welders. Electrical hazard shoes and boots are strategically designed to protect workers from any type of open electrical circuit that is 600 volts or less in dry conditions. Since EH footwear is designed to help protect against electrical shock and welders use controlled electricity to perform their work, the two go well together.
To read more from a previous post about the potential for an electrical shock when welding, click here.
What about heat-resistant boots for welding?
Heat-resistant boots are made with outsoles (bottoms) that are designed to prevent cracking and charring so your feet will get maximum protection. They are also made to provide protection for short periods of time where workers are exposed to direct heat up to 500°F. Commercial and industrial shop welders should benefit greatly from heat-resistant boots. The average garage welder may occasionally step on a red-hot piece of steel so it’s never a bad idea to have boots with extra protection. Whats more is, they will probably last longer than boots without it.
What about the hobby welder, what should they wear?
Let’s start with what the hobby welder should not wear. Shoes of any kind make your feet too susceptible to getting burned. Hot sparks and molten metal can too easily find its way inside a shoe around the ankle area.
Tennis shoes with thin vented panels on the top are very bad about letting hot sparks and slag through to your toes. Not only will the tops of your feet and toes sustain burns, your shoes will be quickly ruined.
So, at a minimum, a good comfortable boot with little to no synthetic materials should always be worn when welding. Even if you consider yourself just a hobby welder.
One can upgrade from there by:
- Eliminating lace-up boots and wearing slip-on style
- Having all leather tops
- Having hardened toes of either steel or composite
- Made to resist heat
- Made non-conductive or to EH – electrical hazard specifications
The basic concept behind engineering controls is that the work environment should be designed to eliminate or reduce exposure to hazards.
For foot protection that could mean:
- Keeping all scrap metal picked up off the floors eliminating the possibility of kicking or stepping on sharp objects
- Placing yourself and your project in a position so that sparks and slag are less likely to rain down on your feet
- Using fire resistant barriers or welding blankets to divert hot sparks and slag away from your lower extremities
- Keeping the welding area free from water
- Identify then remove or barricade access away from all trip hazards.
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Stay safe and Marry some metal today!