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Steel vs Composite Toe Safety Footwear

When shopping for safety footwear, one of the biggest decisions you’ll have to make is weighing up steel vs composite toe caps. Steel toe caps are the original choice for safety footwear, having been introduced alongside protective workwear since the start of the early 20th Century. However, while steel toe capped shoes and boots may have been around a long time, composite toe caps use new, innovative technology to offer a comparable level of protection – but does this mean they’re necessarily the better choice?

As with most safety and workwear, there isn’t always a clear winner. A lot of the decisions you’ll make in regards to your workwear and PPE will be entirely dependent on the environment you work in and the hazards you come across on a daily basis. So with that in mind, we’re going to take you through some of the pros and cons of steel vs composite toe safety footwear, so you can see which are the best fit for you.

Composite Toe Caps

Composite toe safety shoes are relatively new on the scene. Made from a composite of strong, non-metallic materials such as fibreglass, Kevlar or carbon fibre, they’re designed to be incredibly strong and can absorb and protect the wearer from impacts of up to around 200 joules. Let’s take a look at what makes them a great choice for any worker:

  • Generally more lightweight
    In comparison to their steel counterparts, composite toe cap shoes or boots do tend to be a lot lighter in weight. This can make them more comfortable to wear when walking and moving around on your feet all day or for long hours at a time. However, it’s worth noting that safety footwear technology has come a long way in reducing the weight of steel toe footwear, so the difference in weight between the two is a lot less than it used to be.
  • Do not conduct electricity
    If you’re working with live electric currents, you might feel safer choosing composite toe caps, because unlike steel, these plastic toe caps will not conduct electricity.
  • Won’t get hot or cold
    You’ll feel comfortable wearing composite toe cap shoes or boots all year round. Whereas steel toe caps can unfortunately conduct the hot or cold, so you can be left with very cold feet in the Winter months, and uncomfortably warm feet in the Summer. It’s important to consider this, as in unusually cold conditions you have to be mindful of causing permanent damage to the nerves in your feet.
  • Do not set off metal detectors
    This may seem a bit of a strange point, but it actually is incredibly handy for anyone working in an environment where metal detectors are present, such as an airport. Choosing composite safety shoes can save you time having to undergo checks or having to remove your shoes each time you need to be scanned – which can be several times a day.

Steel Toe Caps

The original safety shoe, steel toe caps offer an incredibly high amount of protection to the wearer from potential hazards, including heavy impacts to the foot. These are just a few of the reasons they’re remain such a popular choice with workers:

  • Traditionally stronger
    Whilst composite toe caps have been designed to be incredibly strong and resistant, if you’re working in a highly hazardous environment with heavy machinery and objects which could be at risk of falling/dropping, then you may feel safer choosing steel toe cap boots or shoes.
  • More affordable
    Due to the manufacturing process involved in composite toe caps, they do tend to be more expensive that traditional steel toe cap footwear.
  • Less bulky
    Because steel is naturally stronger than composite counterparts, only a thin layer is required to create a strong protective barrier. Whereas composite shoes can often look bulkier or more rounded around the toe area, due to the amount of material needed to achieve a comparable strength.

As you can see, if you work in an environment where live electrical currents or metal detectors are present, then you may prefer the safety and convenience that composite toe cap safety shoes offer. It’s also worth considering choosing composite over steel if you work in particularly cold environments to protect your toes from frostbite. However, if you work in incredibly high risk environments where you’re concerned about very heavy loads potentially falling on your feet, then a traditional steel toe cap may be your best option.

We hope this has helped clear up any confusion you had when deciding between the two toe cap options. When you’re ready to shop, why not start with our extensive safety footwear selection here. If you have any more questions about safety footwear, then we recommend reading our Ultimate Guide to Safety Footwear, which covers everything from the best style of shoe for you, to what exactly the different safety footwear standards mean.

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