Your Safety Depends on Equipment
Part 2: Hand and foot protection
Naval Ordnance Systems Command
The fire fighting environment is fertile ground for foot injuries that cause permanent as well as temporary disabilities. Boots are necessary to provide protection against these injuries.
Boots must have certain qualities designed to reduce the severity of injury to the sole of the foot, the toes, the instep, and the upper leg of the fire fighter. Boots are designed to provide maximum protection when they are pulled all the way up. This prevents glass and other debris from entering the boot and injuring the foot.
The use of power saws sets up potential foot injury hazards. Since this equipment has the ability to cut wood, steel and concrete, a mistake in its use can easily remove part of a fireman’s foot. To set up defenses against hazards such as these, boots must be capable of providing maximum protection to the fire fighter’s feet.
The following are guidelines for selecting boots suitable for fire fighters:
- Boots should provide protection for the toes from impact and compressive forces by using a protective toe box capable of withstanding compression of 2,500 foot-pounds. This safety toe should be an integral part of the boot.
- Boots should be as light as possible. However, each of the necessary protective device options in a boot will increase its weight. The evaluator must consider all factors before he reaches a decision.
- Boots should be purchased with a built-in .018-inch thick, steel midsole, capable of withstanding 520 pounds of force. Research indicates that once a boot sole is punctured, water penetrates to the steel midsole, causing the midsole to rust. Once rusted, the midsole’s protective ability is weakened. To avoid this problem, the evaluator should consider a stainless. spring steel midsole or another type midsole which will not rust. Steel insoles are not recommended since they tend to irritate feet, reduce the inside dimensions of a boot, and fail to provide necessary flexibility. Details pertinent to safety-toe protection will be found in American National Standards Institute Safety Code Z 4.1.
- Leather insoles are recommended because they make the boot more comfortable and reduce friction to the fireman’s feet. Leather insoles, being approximately 3/16 inch thick, will reduce the inside dimension of the boot by that amount. If leather insoles are selected, they should be in place when the boot is fitted.
- Size is an important consideration when selecting a boot. Since boots rarely come in half sizes, fitting problems often arise. It is necessary to have boots properly fitted to the man who will wear them.
- Instep protection may also be considered. Since this part of the foot is vulnerable to impact and the cutting action of certain tools, the evaluator may consider a form of instep protection built into the boot.
X-ray pictures can be taken to ascertain at the time of purchase how much dependence you can place on a boot’s protectiveness and to find out where a boot has failed. By having a sample of the boot shipment X-rayed, we can determine the presence of defects. Since a boot which has failed is the subject of our concern, a simple Xray will in most cases reveal the problem area and will enable us to more effectively describe our problems to the manufacturer.
Care and maintenance
If the boot is to provide maximum protection, it must be properly maintained. The following points are suggested for proper care and maintenance:
- Worn heels should be replaced by vulcanizing the new heel to the boot. This process restores the original protective quality to the boot.
- Oil, grease and debris should be washed from the boot, since they have a deteriorating effect on rubber.
- Rubber deteriorates fast at points of strain. For this reason, boots should not be kept in the down position longer than a tour of duty.
- Boots lose their protective ability through the deteriorating action of ozone on rubber. To prevent this problem, boots should be stored in a dark, cool area away from sunlight.
- Worn, cut or punctured boots which cannot be effectively repaired should be replaced.
Statistics show that hand and finger injuries are high among fire fighters. Since the hand is one of the most frequently used parts of the body, it is subject to burns, cuts, and combinations of these, any of which may result in the loss of the hand or the loss of the use of it. A proper hand protection program will enable a fire department to eliminate a high percentage of its hand injuries.
Work gloves are a necessary part of a fireman’s equipment. It is the department’s responsibility to select the proper equipment, provide a system whereby it is properly used and maintained, and in certain cases provide a control by which the gloves’ protective ability is ascertained.
Before a glove is selected, the evaluator must be totally familiar with the job for which the glove will be used. Failure to understand the nature of the hazard may lead to improper selection which may result in the occurrence of the very injuries he is trying to prevent.
Gloves suitable for the fire fighter fall into three categories: (1) leather and canvas, (2) vinyl-coated, and (3) rubber electrical type. Each is designed for a specific purpose and provides its protective function only when used as intended.
Leather and canvas gloves are designed to protect against flame and heat encountered during fire operations. They also have good abrasionresistant qualities.
Problems with leather gloves are:
- They absorb water and grow stiff with usage.
- They are susceptible to cuts from sharp objects.
- They are not the ultimate in fit, and when they are new their stiffness reduces a fireman’s dexterity.
With all these drawbacks, the leather glove still remains the best choice for routine fire operations. Developments are needed in this area and should be the subject of research by manufacturers.
A newly developed glove is made of cotton flannel material impregnated with vinyl. This glove provides good fit, slip-resistant qualities, and abrasion resistance with the added feature of being waterproof. It is especially appropriate for outside fire operations where water and low temperatures are a problem. Its phosphorescent properties enable it to be of value when firemen are directing traffic.
Electrical rubber gloves
Operations which expose fire rescue teams to electrical hazards present a problem. Firemen must be adequately insulated from electric shock and from burns resulting from contact with an electrical source.
Rubber is the best available material for electrical gloves. Electrical gloves should be chosen according to the requirements of the A.N.S.I. Safety Code J 6.6, which gives the necessary details for selection.
The main problem with electrical rubber gloves is their susceptibility to deterioration by the action of ozone, heat at and natural oxidation of rubber. For this reason, a program of inspection and testing should be developed. Fire departments which have rubber gloves stored on their apparatus and have had them there for a considerable amount of time will be surprised at how many of these gloves will no longer provide protection.
Caring for gloves
Selecting the proper gloves for the hazard is only half the battle, for unless they are maintained correctly, deterioration will be hastened and the degree of protection originally provided will be lost.
The following should serve as a guide for caring and maintaining work gloves:
- After use, debris, chemicals, etc., should be removed. Washing the glove with mild soap and warm water is recommended to remove stubborn foreign matter.
- Petroleum products such as oil and grease deteriorate glove fabrics. They should be removed.
- Leather gloves which have become wet should be dried in a cool, well-ventilated area to permit the circulation of air throughout the glove. Radiators, ovens, and other hot places should not be selected as intense heat damages the glove and shortens its life.
- Electrical gloves must not be stored where they may be exposed to direct rays of the sun.
- Electrical gloves should be tested periodically to determine their protective capability.
- Worn or damaged gloves should be replaced.
(Concluded next month)