When safety shoes are not so safe

February 13, 2018

Health and safety are of prime importance in one’s life particularly when it comes to work environment. Workers need to adhere to a set of rules and regulations to ensure safety at work premises are maintained at all times.

While the ordinary work indoors may not have stringent requirements on the dress code and footwear, however, workers who are involved in industrial, factory, construction and heavy machinery work have to adhere to safety standards prior to carrying out their daily tasks.

For many industries, along with suitable attire, workers are required to wear safety shoes to protect their foot from falling objects and other potential job-site injuries. These safety shoes or boots are designed with heavy protection and ultimate safety in mind.

Now a pair of safety shoes come at a high price and it is something that consumers cannot afford to buy every month.

When consumers do invest in a pair of safety shoes, they expect it to be durable and fit for its purpose in a hazardous work environment to say the least. The Consumer Council of Fiji has received cases where safety shoes or boots have failed to last even a week. In some cases it seems like a pair of shoes have just been tagged ‘safety shoes’ and the durability of the product is a major concern.

When consumers are sold such products, they tend to lose out on much more than just money. For some their work hours are affected as safety shoes are a mandatory requirement before they can enter the workplace. Those who are sold shoddy products cannot return to work until they get durable replacement shoes because there are consumers who don’t have ready cash to buy another pair of safety shoes unless the redress is provided.

Such was the case with Ravi.

Ravi who was an industrial worker bought a pair of safety shoes from a prominent footwear store in Suva worth $150. Within a month, the stiching on the sides of the shoes started opening and the top covering peeled off. Given that the shoe opening was a safety harzard, Ravi was told to get the shoe fixed before resuming work. He immediately took the shoe to the trader to seek a redress as it was still under 6 months warranty. Unfortunately, the trader refused to assist Ravi claiming that the stiching issue was not their fault.

Concerned with the response, Ravi lodged his complaint with the Council via its National Consumer Helpline 155, seeking a speedy outcome so that he could resume work.

Following the Council’s intervention, the trader agreed to repair the shoes within 3 working days. However, the repairs done on the shoes were shoddy as water could seep into the shoes from where the stiching work was done.

All this while Ravi’s work was drastically affected as everytime he tried to report to work, the mangement advised him that he could not enter the work premises unless he had proper safety footwear.

The Council then liaised with the trader for a pair of replacement shoes for Ravi or refund of his money. Ravi was advised by the trader to visit the supplier for the replacement shoes. Traders should not expect consumers to liaise with their suppliers when the items were bought from them. Whilst the supplier agreed to provide Ravi with the replacement shoes, they declined to give any warranty on the item.

This was unacceptable given that if the product also turned out to be of non-merchantable quality, then Ravi would not be able to seek redresss.

The Council then demanded a full refund of $150 for Ravi from the trader. This was facilitated immediately, following which Ravi was able to purchase a pair of safety shoes from elsewhere.

Given such cases, the Council would like to urge traders and suppliers to uphold good business practices and provide redress to consumers where they have been supplied with items of non-merchantable quality. Safety shoes come with certain safety features and if they fail to protect the consumer in a hazardous work environment then its purpose is defeated.

In Fiji, as per the Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) recommendations, the suppliers should provide safety shoes with the following features:

  • Toe cap;
  • Slip resistant;
  • Pierce Resistant at sole;
  • Test Certificates from Manufacturer; and
  • Letter of Conformance from Manufacturer (Standards)

 The firms that require safety shoes to be worn at workplace should also assist workers to understand the requirements under OHS. The consumers are also advised to do a bit of background research regarding the safety shoes requirements in their workplace before making a purchase. Consumers should therefore look out for the OHS recommendations and purchase a pair of safety shoes which have the above features.