Putting the boot in

Studies carried out at the University of Wollongong’s Biomechanics Research Laboratory suggests a more comfortable work boot could save millions of dollars in work related injuries especially for underground coal miners.

According to the study they are on their feet for extended periods and one of their biggest complaints is uncomfortable footwear. New research has found that current work boots are potentially contributing to lower limb and back injuries.

Current footwear options for underground miners are limited to either a leather lace up boot, which has a stiff shaft and stiff sole, or a gumboot, which has a flexible shaft and flexible sole.

IHMRI researchers, Professor Julie Steele and PhD candidate Jessica Dobson, surveyed 270 underground coal miners from the Dendrobium and West cliff mine sites in the Illawarra and scans of the volunteers’ feet were taken. As a result IHMRI researchers found that most miners in the study were wearing ill-fitting footwear.

Miners were then asked to wear either the gumboot or leather lace-up boot while walking over a variety of surfaces to determine which was more comfortable with results indicating that underground coal miners prefer a work boot with a flexible shaft and stiff sole.

Researchers say that no single work boot design will meet each individual foot shape, instead they hope to create a range of recommendations for a variety of designs.

The work has already attracted international attention and Dobson has presented her thesis on the effect of the underground coal-mining boot at both Harvard University and at a conference at Disney World Florida. The thesis work was also presented at the World Congress of Biomechanics Boston and footwear conferences in the UK and QLD.

IHMRI research on work boots for underground miners found:

  • 71% of participants in the study reported wearing the gumboot compared to 29% who wore the leather lace-up boot.
  • 68.6% of miners in the study reported foot problems.
  • More than 50% of miners in the study identified the presence of hip, knee and ankle pain.
  • Of those who reported foot and/or ankle pain, 56.7% believed the pain was related to their work boots.
  • Workplace injuries in mining are highly prevalent (Smith et al., 1999) and, in Australian occur most frequently in underground mines (Government of Western Australia, 2011)
  • The most common injuries are to the lower limbs, contributing to almost 18,900 lost workdays and incurring $28 million in compensation annually.
  • Approximately, 40% of miners who sustained lower limb injuries identified their work boots as the main causal factor. As a consequence, laced leatherwork boots were introduced as an alternative to the steel capped gumboot.


Image sourced from Flickr cc: Dale Simonson

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