If you want to protect your toes on the job, the type of work boot that you need is pretty obvious. If you want to protect yourself from an electric shock, however, the choice can be a little bit more difficult to make.
The most common source of confusion is the difference between electrical hazard and static dissipative work boots.
To make matters worse, there’s also a third lesser known choice in the form of conductive work boots.
The purpose of this article is therefore to explain the three different classes of boot, how they work, and more importantly the terminology that manufacturers use to distinguish them.
Electrical Hazard/Non Conductive Boots
If you want to protect yourself from an electric shock, this category, and this category alone is what you should be wearing. The idea behind these boots is pretty easy to understand.
The entire surface of the boot is made from non conductive materials. And as a result, should your foot come in contact with a live charge, there’s no way for that charge to reach your feet.
A good example of this concept in action can be found in electrical wires.
Touch a live wire directly and you’ll obviously get a shock. Touch a live wire that’s been wrapped in non conductive materials, however, and nothing happens.
In order for a boot to be classified as an Electrical Hazard boot by ASTM, it needs to be able to withstand 18,000 Volts at 60 Hz for an entire minute.
Boots that meet this standard are marked as EH.
Static Dissipative Boots
This is the easiest category of boot to misinterpret. They do provide some levels of electrical hazard protection but it’s minimal (typically around 240 Volts). Instead, their primary purpose is to protect against static electricity.
They are designed so that should the wearer come in contact with static electricity, it will quickly pass through their body, out of their shoes and into the ground. In doing so, the potential for a static shock, charge or spark is greatly reduced.
They are something of a middle ground between the three categories. And they are generally worn in industries in which a static shock is problematic but not life threatening.
Static Dissipative Boots are marked as SD or ESD.
These boots are the last thing that you’d want to be wearing around a live wire. They are designed to provide the least amount of electrical hazard resistance possible.
They are basically anti static boots minus the minimal electrical hazard protection. The benefit being that static electricity is removed from the body even faster rendering the chances of a spark occuring almost impossible.
These boots are solely worn by those working in conditions where even the slightest spark could lead to a fire/explosion. These boots should obviously not be worn unless you are specifically working in such an environment.
Conductive Boots are marked as CD.
What About Metal in the Boot?
A common misconception about electrical hazard boots is that they cannot contain metal of any kind. Given the conductive nature of the material, this is easy to understand. The reality however is that provided the boot is in good condition, there’s nothing to worry about.
Metal can only conduct electricity if it comes into direct contact with it. And steel toes or shanks are always safely tucked behind a layer of non conductive leather or rubber.
The only catch is that the importance of keeping your boots in good shape obviously increases. As soon as that steel toe or shank becomes exposed to your environment, the electrical hazard properties of the boot could be rendered non existent.
Regardless of which category you decide to purchase, it’s important to understand that their ability to do their job does depend on certain conditions being met.
- Electrical hazard boots become significantly less effective when wet. The same applies if they have been subject to excess wear and tear or if any shards of metallic material have become lodged in the sole.
- Static Dissipative and conductive boots lose all effectiveness if a conductive insole is added or if the boot becomes wet. They also need to be worn in a clean environment so that the sole is in complete contact with the ground.