Steel toe caps vs composite toe caps

The debate about steel vs composite toe caps has been ongoing for a while now, so, with still no conclusive evidence that either is better than the other, is there, in fact, a superior option?

The history

What are safety boots? According to Wikipedia, “A steel-toe boot (also known as a safety boot, steel-capped boot or safety shoe) is a durable boot or shoe that has a protective reinforcement in the toe which protects the foot from falling objects or compression, usually combined with a midsole plate to protect against punctures from below”

Steel toe caps have been around for a long time – since the start of the 20th Century when the usage of safety workwear and footwear first became recognised as a need – prior to this, it was actually considered more expensive to issue proper safety footwear workers with than to replace an injured operative! However, when liability costs were introduced after the laws regarding compensation were implemented, this theory and practice began to change. Safety Standards in many countries mean that thankfully, the use of safety boots in many industries is now compulsory.

The first type of safety footwear was a type of wooden shaped and hollowed out boot, named a “sabot” which protected workers from heavy falling objects.

Allegedly, the word “sabotage” came from the industrial revolution when workers used their sabots to wreck machinery!

While steel toe capped boots have been around a long time – since the 1940’s – composite toe caps are a relatively new introduction into the world of safety footwear. so what makes them better? Or are they even inferior to steel toe caps?

For many people wearing toe capped boots on a daily basis, the weight and comfort of your boots matters to them. Not only are composite toe caps lighter than steel, but they are also more durable. Composite toe caps can be made from a variety of materials, and will differ from supplier to supplier, however, the most used materials will usually be kevlar, fibreglass, plastic, and carbon fibre.

Composite toe caps are lighter for a variety of reasons – but primarily because of their production process – nanotechnology creates thin layers of fibre that is then fused together to create a strong but thin cap. Some further features and benefits of composite toe caps for lightweight safety boots are below.

  • They don’t get cold or hot – unlike their steel counterparts, composite toe caps are non-conductive, meaning that they don’t conduct heat or cold, making them perfect for insulated boots.
  • Composite toe caps will not set off metal detectors – if you are an operative in a location where passing through security scanners regularly, composite toe caps are a time saver and mean you don’t have to worry about setting off alarms.
  • They are perfect for sports style shoes – the lightness of composite means they are light enough for your sports style safety trainers and shoes.
  • Composite toe caps don’t conduct electricity and can give you a little extra peace of mind if you are working in a hazardous electrical environment.

Why use steel toe caps?

Steel toe caps are still the most popular option in today’s market for safety boots and shoes. With new advances, they are often not as heavy as they once were. They are proven too – having been around for the best part of a century, steel toe capped boots are not going away anytime soon and have provided operatives and workers with proper protection for many years.

There is a common myth surrounding steel toe capped boots that they are more likely to cut off and crush your toes should a significantly heavy enough weight fall on them. This myth has, however, since been proven to be false, with a popular US TV Show testing safety boots to try and prove the theory. They came to is that it would only be under extraordinary circumstances that a heavy enough weight would fall on your toes and cause damage, and if the damage was caused, it would more likely crush your toes rather than cut or slice them. There has only been one incident of this before in Australia, where a worker had some steel pipes fall off a forklift and crush their toes. It was also found that rather than a direct amputation of the toe, it was the crushing of a toe that meant it was beyond repair. Some further features and benefits of steel toe caps are below:

  • They are usually cheaper than their composite counterparts, having been around for many years.
  • Steel toe caps are as strong, and in many cases, stronger than composite toe caps.
  • If it ain’t broke – why fix it? Many people are of the mindset that despite their relative benefits, steel toe caps still remain the industry leader.
  • More styles/sizes/shapes available in the steel toe range – with the composite toe cap being a more recent introduction to the safety footwear world, they are usually used in higher specification boots and specialist industries, meaning they still maintain some exclusivity.

Pros & cons

If you’re making a decision on whether or not to opt for either a steel or composite toe cap, we’ve put together a helpful chart with the pros and cons of each boot together for you.

Steel Toe Caps– Cheaper in general than composite toe caps
– They are as strong as composite, and sometime stronger than.
– A proved and tested method of foot protection
More styles, sizes and shapes available with a steel toe cal
– Heavier than composite
– Will conduct heat and cold
– Also will conduct electricity
Composite Toe Caps– Lightweight and durable
– Don’t conduct electricity or heat & cold
– Usually found in higher spec boots, meaning they are more expensive
– Not as wide a variety of styles, sizes & shape

To conclude

What we must remember when making a decision on purchasing or recommending safety boots is that both steel and composite toe caps have all been subjected to and met certain standards. In short, they are all fully compliant to a set of standards, and it should be borne in mind that checking the specification you need is very important.

Where there are generally more benefits associated with composite toe caps, it has been proven that the widely held myth that they are safer than steel toe caps is, in fact, false and not to be held in your mind when ordering safety shoes. Overall, the composite toe cap offers the benefits of the steel toe cap plus more, such as its resistance to the conductivity of heat, cold and electricity, so if you are looking for a high quality, more expensive boot, we would recommend looking for a boot with composite toe cap and midsole. However, steel toe cap boots are still very much as safe and often cheaper than boots with a composite toe cap and midsole so these are a great option for those with a budget and they are available in a huge range of market leading products.

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Composite Steel Toe Caps vs Steel Toe Caps

Although it is not strictly our responsibility to tell you what PPE is best, we have had over 40 years of experience when it comes to PPE for drivers and operators in the Gas Industry. So we have come up with some recommendations below for both ladies and men working in this industry.

We know that refineries/terminals are becoming more stringent on the correct PPE being worn when loading gas, so it is important you have suitable PPE.

To discuss further with us please call 01280 841400 or email sales@hazchemsafety.com .

PPE Recommendations Men


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