Foot and ankle injuries can be faulted to a variety of job-site hazards: falling objects, slippery surfaces, equipment malfunctions, or trips and falls.

According to the National Safety Council, in 2014 alone, there were 18,140 lower extremity injuries reported by construction workers in the private sector that caused days away from work. Among those, 4,500 were ankle injuries, and 3,620 involved the feet or toes.

Following safety regulations and wearing the proper safety gear, including footwear, can go a long way in reducing the risk of foot, ankle, or other injury on construction sites. A 2005 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics study found that, across all industries, there were 60,000 foot injuries per year, which were caused by incidents like electrocution, slips, burns, puncture wounds, or crushing. The sad part is that 75 per cent of those injuries involved workers not following safety guidelines.

Your most used body part

“This is a special problem for construction, where there’s so much work on your feet,” says John Dony, director of the Campbell Institute and director of environmental, health, safety and sustainability for the National Safety Council. “You really need to make sure there’s good a good level of compliance. You also need to make sure that that you’ve created a culture in which people see [adequate footwear] as mandatory, that it’s just part of the way you do your work and do your business.”

The U.S. Occupational Safety & Health Administration recommends that employees in the construction or similar industries wear protective footwear that have slip- and puncture-resistant soles and that is safety-toed with steel or other material to prevent crushing from heavy equipment or falling objects.

“If you’re treating an accident when someone has hurt their ankle as an isolated incident, you’re going to be looking at one case of that one injury—but the root causes of that injury are probably throughout your site.”

You are what you wear

Safety is paramount, but with any safety gear, Dony suggests, comfort is also important.

“There’s a lot of challenges in the outdoor construction industry with finding the right sorts of footwear for people. When you’re working in environments that require a lot of walking, you need something that’s not only comfortable, but is also going to protect your foot in the right way,” Dony says. “With any sort of personal protective equipment, whether it’s a fall harness, a pair of safety glasses, hearing protection, or footwear, people are going to be less receptive to it when it’s not comfortable.”

Injuries can happen slowly

Foot and ankle injuries often result from isolated incidents, but prolonged repetitive movement or not wearing adequate footwear consistently can lead to foot or ankle problems in the long term. Construction employers should educate employees on safety and on how to reduce the risk of injury—and generally foster a culture of safety.

“If you’re treating an accident when someone has hurt their ankle or twisted it as an isolated incident, you’re going to be looking at one case of that one injury that happened to that one person,” Dony explains. “But the root causes of that injury—those slip, trip and fall risk factors and hazards—are probably out there throughout your site and your construction project. By zeroing in on an isolated case, you might not get the full scope.”

That’s where reporting culture becomes highly important, Dony suggests. An open safety culture encourages workers to share what they see as risks because they are the ones that encounter these situations every day.

“Your typical safety professional might get a chance to tour the site each day but isn’t going to be able to pay as much attention to those specific jobs and tasks,” he explains. “It’s about engaging the workers in reporting and sharing what they’re finding hazardous or having issues with, and trying to find the trends that underlie everything.”

For construction employers, helping workers reduce the risk of foot or ankle injury depends on creating a culture of safety, educating workers about potential hazards, and ensuring that everyone is wearing proper footwear.