By Jayden Mark
Safety work boots are common on construction sites, factories, and many high-risk working environments. For the longest time, steel toe work boots were considered the norm for PPE, when people are at risk of foot injuries. A relatively new concept in this field is metatarsal boots.
What Are Metatarsal Guard Boots?
OSHA regulations for workplace safety keep evolving and manufacturers of work boots need up their game to keep up with the trends. Toe protection for work boots, using steel, alloy, or composite materials are pretty much a staple for safety gear in many industries.
An increased awareness of occupational safety has resulted in employers and safety boot manufacturers realizing the importance of metatarsal guards. This type of PPE is also known as met guards or meta guards. It refers to protection for the metatarsal bones.
External Metatarsal Vs Internal Metatarsal Guards
In many cases, metatarsal protection is optional. You can choose between two types of protection in this regard – external metatarsal guards or or internal metatarsal guards. The latter being boots with built-in metatarsal protection made from heavy-duty flexible plastic.
External metatarsal guards are cumbersome and restrict the natural movement of the foot. People using these guards have complained about fatigue, difficulty walking, and tripping. As a result, internal metatarsal guard boots have become more popular, and manufacturers now supply a fantastic range of reasonably comfortable metatarsal work boots.
Both the external and internal metatarsal guards perform a vital function, protecting the metatarsal bones.
External Metatarsal Protection
External Metatarsal Guard Work Boot
In terms of protection, the external guards are the safest type there is. Since they are outside, they can be as thick as you want for more protection and also safeguards your boot’s uppers from debris and corrosives.
However, external metatarsal guards also come with their own set of limitations. The most obvious is, of course, decreased flexibility while walking. The other problem comes in when workers get stuck on ladders and tight spaces due to the massive guard sticking out. Fortunately, modern designs are quickly addressing these issues. Similarly, you can also remove the external guards if you wish for lighter activities.
Internal Metatarsal Guards
As the name suggests, internal guards are built into your work boots and are there to stay. Like a skeleton, inner guards offer a layer of protection from the inside. Until recently, these internal guards were not as popular due to the initial fit and feel caused by thick and oversized units. However, advancement saw later versions being built with different pieces that link up for more flexibility like an armadillo shell.
Internal Metatarsal Guard Work Boot
Today, many internal metatarsal guards consist of a liquid type pouch that is softer and more flexible but still resilient. The most attractive aspect about these guards is that the technology kicks in when you need it most. Once a heavy object drops to you feet, it triggers a chemical reaction that turns the soft gel into a rock hard guard. Sure, some people are still a tad hesitant, but internal guards are definitely looking like the future for metatarsal protection.
What Are Metatarsal Bones?
If you run your fingers across the top of your foot, you will feel five small bones extending from the toes to your ankles. These are the metatarsal bones.
We have very little natural protection for these bones. This makes them vulnerable to an impact from falling objects. There is also a substantial risk from rolling weight, like a moving vehicle or the rollers in assembly lines and distribution facilities.
To protect the metatarsal bones, a tough flexible material is required. As we walk, the metatarsal bones move independently of the toes. To allow for this, the metatarsal guard needs to move more freely than a ridged toe guard.
Composite materials, like strong plastic, are used inside the boot to protect the upper area of your foot. While metatarsal protection is designed to be flexible and reasonably comfortable, they may cause some discomfort. The protective layer is not as soft and malleable as leather.
Despite the minor restrictions caused by the extra layer of protection, most workers and employers recognize the value of providing additional protection for the upper foot. Fracturing of the metatarsal bones can be extremely painful and make it difficult to walk.
An injury to the metatarsal bones can take up to twelve weeks to heal. In severs cases, it can take longer and may require surgery. Treatment for a metatarsal fracture include:
Given how serious these injuries are, it is understandable why additional protection has been incorporated into work boots. Countless work injuries have been avoided when workers use metatarsal protection.
Steel Toes Vs Metatarsal Guard
Steel toe work boots have been around for decades, whereas metatarsal guard boots are a more recent development.
For many years, the importance of metatarsal protection was not fully recognized. With the development of higher quality composite materials, with greater strength and flexibility, it has become feasible to provide suitable protection for the upper foot.
Steel toe caps are solid and provide no flexibility. This means that they can only protect the toes up to the joint where the toes meet the metatarsal bones. Metatarsal guard safety boots usually include a steel or composite toe cap, as well as a more flexible metatarsal guard covering the top of the boot, under the laces.
Steel toe boots, without metatarsal protection, will be more comfortable but don’t offer as much protection.
Who Needs to Wear Metatarsal Work Boots?
The regulations stipulate that metatarsal work boots should be worn when workers are at risk of injury from a rolling weight of more than 50 pounds. This is an ambiguously vague statement and does not fully explain the risk of falling objects crushing the foot.
An object that is dropped from a height of around four feet cause more damage than a rolling object. The surface area of a rolling object also needs to be considered. A 50-pound bag of flour has a greater surface area than a wheel. Hence the damage caused by the bag of flour won’t be as severe as the concentrated weight of the wheel.
Statistically, 80% of foot injuries are caused by falling objects weighing 30 pounds or more. Rolling objects will vary, depending on the surface area, but 50 pounds is the norm when considering metatarsal guards.
Metatarsal safety footwear also offers improved protection from molten metal or falling embers.
Choosing the Right Metatarsal Guard Work Boots
When buying safety boots, the temptation exists to simply choose the most affordable option. Granted, budget is often an important consideration. However, saving a few bucks today might end up being sadly disappointing in the years to come.
Before comparing prices, make sure that the boots you’re considering meet all your requirements. You should ensure that the safety boots you buy meet the following criteria:
Your first step should be to check that the work boots that you buy meet all the safety standards for the job you’re doing. In 2018, OSHA regulations were amended, requiring a higher minimum ANSI standard for work boots. This means you need to look for the ATSM F2413-18 marking for the best PPE testing for work boots.
After this initial distinction, you need to check the letters under the basic ATSM rating. The first line of letters will include basic information about the boot:
The last line of letters offers more detailed testing relating to requirements for specific working conditions:
Depending on the industry you work in, you may require one or more of the properties listed above.
It is not always easy to determine how comfortable or durable a work boot is until you’ve worn them for a month or more. For this reason, it’s always best to read reputable metatarsal work boot reviews before making your decision.