Innovations in Workwear

Words: Cassandra Stern   
Photos: Iron Age Boots, MagnaReady, Red Wing Shoe Company  

“There were approximately 2.8 million nonfatal workplace injuries and illnesses reported by private industry employers in 2017, which occurred at a rate of 2.8 cases per 100 full-time equivalents (FTE) workers, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported. Private industry employers reported nearly 45,800 fewer nonfatal injury and illness cases in 2017 compared to a year earlier, according to estimates from the Survey of Occupational Injuries and Illnesses (SOII).” [https://www.bls.gov/news.release/archives/osh_11082018.htm]  

Thanks largely in part to advances in workwear technology, current trends indicate that workplaces across the nation are growing increasingly safer and, in fact, rates of workplace injury have decreased by nearly 45,800 between 2016 and 2017. However, a closer examination of these statistics reveals that in addition to the 2.8 million nonfatal workplace injuries occurring in 2017, there were an additional 5,147 fatal workplace injuries. On average, that’s more than 99 deaths a week, or more than 14 deaths every day. Out of the 4,674 worker fatalities in the private industry sector throughout the 2017 calendar year, 971, or 20.7%, were in construction.   

Items like hardhats, gloves, goggles, visors, coveralls, kneepads, and work boots are all advisable and appropriate precautions when entering and operating in various construction industry workspaces. While these types of safety gear are well known and have been used for many years with consistent success, in recent times, many companies have begun improving their standard products by developing and utilizing current advancements in techniques and technologies. Workwear is one of the most critical components to staying safe and compliant on a jobsite. Protection from head to toe is one way to ensure you go home at the end of the day.  

In our previous workwear articles, we covered dressing for success or safety, while the second part to that story covered just how important protecting your feet is while working in this industry. While you know innovation happens daily, this rings true for work wear for our guys out in the field, working on a building or project.   

Shoes are something that we can sometimes take for granted in the grand scheme of things. The idea of protective footwear goes beyond wearing long enough socks and making sure your boots are tied tight enough. Steel toe boots are an essential piece of equipment or work gear in the masonry and construction business. But this is not new information, new in the workwear industry are innovations in boots from crack resistance to flexibility and grip while still providing comfort, to an accessible shirt that can make day-to-day easier for everyone.   

Rugged and Tough, But Comfortable?  

Rugged versus comfort and substance has been the age-old debate, do we sacrifice the idea of comfort in order to protect our feet from being potentially crushed onsite? Most work boot companies offer options in response to this debate or ideology. Iron Age boots are made to protect your toes from compression and impact while being able to provide a metatarsal guard inside of the boot. In the hopes to improve the productivity of masons and knowing how the elements on a jobsite can affect the integrity of boots, Iron Age has been creating an updated composite work boot that is said to be crack resistant. Dubbed “The Immortalizer,” this six-inch lace-up work boot comes with extra wide protective toes, are waterproof and have an abrasion resistance top around the front outside of the leather, according to Brent Jennings, Product Manager of the Warson Brands.   

Masons are prone to getting dust, slurry runoff, and mortar on their boots, which can lead to corrosion and potentially to cracking of work boots. Lots of researching went into the development of these boots in order to combat cracking, corrosion, and general boot damage. “We designed them after listening to lots of people, after visiting lots of sites, in masonry, precast, oil, and gas,” Jennings confirms.   

The Immortalizer boot also features an easier to clean outer sole along with a tool to make that cleaning process more manageable. The Muckrake can fit into the grooves of the boots to prevent build-up on the sole of the boots. These new boots are said to have been created with the masonry industry in mind during the development stages.  

Iron Age is just one of the many brands that are in search of new and innovative products to bring to their customers. The demands of these jobs in the masonry industry can cause fatigue and soreness that can start in your feet. Red Wing Shoe Company is another company that has developed a boot in the hopes of providing comfort for masons working on uneven surfaces and the repetitive motion of bending up and down.   

The Red Wing Burnside boot was created following studies done on worksites and receiving feedback from workers in the industry. Much like Iron Age, Red Wing wanted to provide a boot that will support personnel in the industry while providing comfort for the workers.   

“In the masonry industry, having a safe, reliable pair of boots can help workers avoid potential injury and time off the job,” states Kirstin Anderson, Senior Product Merchandising Manager at Red Wing Shoe Company. Flexibility in the boot while still having grip is imperative while on a jobsite to ensure safety and comfort.  

These new boots feature a no-slip outsole, heat and tear resistance, memory foam tongue and collar. Where higher wear and tear occurs, there is a polyurethane layer combined with leather for a resilient boot. With these components in combination with a removable foot insert, the Burnside boot helps to combat discomfort and abrasions on the exterior.   

Anderson suggests masons look for work boots that meet or exceed evolving safety standards, which happen to change every three to five years. You should try and shop in person at a store to be sure the boots fit properly. Purchasing a pair of work boots is along the lines of investing in your career, and you want to make sure the fit is perfect, and the comfort is there.   

The soon-to-be-released Immortalizer work boots from Iron Age, have been designed explicitly with workplace safety in mind. According to Jennings, “we’ve taken the boots and soaked them in lime, and ammonia, and have done thousands of many vamp and flex testing.” Processes like these and more help to ensure the comfortability and safety of footwear in the industry.   

Similarly, Red Wing Shoes focuses on the people who will be wearing the protective gear and aim to provide the necessary features they will need out of a work boot. Taking the boots through a battery of tests to ensure they’re safe and comfortable to wear — essential things to take into consideration when in the market for a new pair of work boots. You’ll want them to have longevity while still providing comfort and protection from the elements and day-to-day wear and tear.   

So, If you are in the market for a new pair of work boots or would like to venture outside of your trusted brand, maybe take a look into these boots and see if the will withstand a job or projects you’re working on.  

Accessible Shirts   

Born out of necessity, an accessible clothing line was created for the need of a former college football coach who was diagnosed early with Parkinson’s disease. Maura Horton, the CEO of MagnaReady, made the decision to create this adaptive clothing line following a game when her husband was unable to button his shirt and was helped by then college ball player Russell Wilson.   

Horton wanted to prevent anyone else from being embarrassed by not being able to perform the simple task of buttoning their shirt. “I immediately started thinking of solutions that were out there, I looked for options for him, and we ordered some closure pieces that we found to be sub-par. So, I created the magnet technology just based on his need and inability to do things that we all take for granted.”  

While MagnaReady’s immediate application is to assist those with unique physical, mental, and emotional needs, Horton quickly found it also has a secondary, but equally as useful purpose amongst the mason and construction professional crowd. “I think it’s great for construction jobsites and is OSHA compliant,” says Horton. “OSHA requires your shirt or whatever you’re wearing be completely removable in case you were caught in a bad situation, or machinery, or trapped so you can quickly remove your clothing.” Easily removable clothing is also safer in cases of exposure to flames, caustic liquids, heavy machinery, and many other construction materials that masons, in particular, are likely to use.   

“We have so many people that buy our shirts for the ease of use,” explains Horton, “not necessarily because they have limited mobility or dexterity, but because it’s easy to use.” Horton has worked hard to design her clothing lines around the unique needs of her customers and has developed “all types of fabric shirts, from a linen shirt to a flannel shirt, which is our most popular. We do service a large industry and area in Florida, Arizona, and California where it is warmer and doesn’t necessarily need flannel, so we do have casual styles as well.”  

Workplace attire can be further improved in terms of safety when upgraded to a quick release closure system like MagnaReady, which serves as a preventative measure from injury in dangerous situations with chemicals, flames, and other potential hazards. While there is nothing worse than the loss of a loved one, knowing it was a workplace fatality that could have been prevented by taking the proper precautionary measures is truly unbearable. Research and information will go a long way into investing in the appropriate safety precautions for any workplace.