Put your best footwear forward and specify the right standard for where you’re going

We’ve come a long way since EN 345-1 “Safety footwear for professional use” was released in 1993. It was revised in 1997 before it’s withdrawal in 2004 when it was superseded by EN ISO 20345 “Personal protective equipment. Safety footwear” that we now know today.

The current published version is EN ISO 20345:2011 and the industry is very much led by the markings S3 SRC, with increasing importance placed on a Waterproof Membrane (WR) and more recently Metatarsal Protection (M).

In this article, we are going to focus on the environmental hazards that end-users face, so will be looking at the heat insulation (HI), cold insulation (CI) and Waterproof Membrane (WR) markings and what these mean for the wearer.

It’s widely publicised that 80% of people will suffer foot problems in their adult lives. However, only 20% of yearly reported MSDs (musculoskeletal disorders) are lower limb disorders and most of these are broken bones i.e. toes and metatarsals so wearers that suffer from aching feet from unsupported, swollen, cold or wet feet are suffering in silence.


Starting with CI, which is most important for this time of year, the CI test method involves the whole boot being placed in a cold chamber and a temperature probe measuring the temperature reduction inside the boot. This simulation measures the warmth retained within the boot in cold conditions. The standard test is set at -17°C (with a 2°C tolerance) and the temperature decrease inside must be less than 10°C. This test can be modified as low as -40°C with the same reduction parameters. This marking means that the footwear is certified to keep customers feet warm in cold conditions and is an ideal standard to specify in the colder months.

HI is the exact opposite of CI and measures protection against environmental heat. The HI test method involves a temperature-controlled boot at 23°C (with a 2°C tolerance) with the boot being placed in a heated sand bath at 150°C for 30 minutes. After the 30-minute test, the inside of the boot is measured and must not increase by more than 22°C. The main benefit of this for wearers is in indoor environments with concentrated residual heat, for example, in foundries (where footwear certified to EN ISO 20349-2:2017 should be specified) or glass manufacturing plants. It’s also useful in construction and utilities when tarmacking or in hot works, where footwear also often conforms to HRO (constructed on a heat resistant outsole which is resistant to 300°C on contact).

Earlier we referred to the marking (WR), increasingly manufacturers are adding waterproof membranes to their products to make them suitable for all weather conditions. In footwear, there are several construction methods and not all are “equal”. There are a number of materials from large brands including the likes of Sympatex®, eVent, Activ-Tex® and GORE. Manufacturer’s use these materials under a license from the brand, however, it’s at the manufacturer’s discretion what level of testing they conduct on the whole boot.

The European standard for WR has two test methods, we’re going to focus on the one with the best perception in the industry which is an 80-minute flex test. The footwear is secured in a flexing machine with water at a defined level above the featherline. The footwear is flexed at a constant rate and inspected at intervals for water penetration. In order to pass the test, the total wetted area inside the footwear cannot be greater than 3cm2.

Rock Fall, for instance, test their Activ-Tex® waterproof membranes for a minimum of 8 hours and their Moisture-tech by Sympatex® waterproof membranes for 100 hours.

End-users should request batch test reports from manufacturers to ensure the performance of the range of products they are buying. The recent change from the PPE Directive to the PPE Regulation (EU) 2016/425 means that manufacturers should batch test all production.

Please note, sections of this article include direct extracts from EN ISO 20345:2011 (the European standard for Safety Footwear) and EN ISO 20344:2011 (the European test methods for Safety Footwear)

In summary, specifying the correct footwear for the wearer’s environmental conditions can make a huge difference to their comfort, health and wellbeing.

Disclaimer: The information provided through Greenham Pulse is for general guidance only and is not legal advice. Greenham Pulse is not a substitute for Health and Safety consultancy. You should seek independent advice about any legal matter.