Bit of a different post today. In my day job I am an Environmental/Health and Safety Officer (I know, so rock n roll! So if people don’t dislike me for being vegan, they can at least dislike me for being “Health and Safety”).
So I thought I would combine the two, health and safety and Veganism. Specifically for this post, safety shoes.
When you start a new job in certain environments you will be required to wear PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) to keep you safe, we all know that and have all seen that. The most common ones are Hi-Vis and boots (because it’s a little known fact that Hi-Vis makes you bulletproof ***Disclaimer: It doesn’t****). Normally you will see them as a kind of “standard” work wear. Hi-Vis is usually polyester so no worries there, but the safety boots usually have leather, suede or some sort of animal derived glue in them somewhere. Obviously this is not what any vegan wants to be wearing. It can make you feel like you are compromising your morals and beliefs and although under section 9 of the Health and Safety at Work Act (1974) an employer can not charge you for PPE, you are still causing that product to be bought and subsequently, wearing animal products.
But there are alternatives!! Oh yes! I have bought vegan safety shoes for staff before, they were vegan and needed safety shoes and being vegan myself I understood this and found them a selection to chose from and they were happy. But that’s me as a vegan. What if your boss isn’t vegan, or your safety manager isn’t vegan or just doesn’t understand it and doesn’t really care. What are your rights? What does health and safety law say? Under the PPE regulations there is no exemption from PPE for Medical, Religious or person beliefs (apart from Sikhs and hard hats, although other control measures are required). So Veganism is, in legal terms, a belief? A lifestyle? Where does this leave us?
There are a few terms in health and safety law and legislation/regulations which are used often and can be a little open to interpretation. These include (but are not limited to) “So far as is reasonably practicable” and “suitable and sufficient”. The second one is where I determine that vegans should not be expected to wear non vegan safety shoes. This is because if I had a medical condition a standard safety shoe may not be suitable for me. If I was religious such as Hindu, a leather shoe wouldn’t be suitable for me. The definition of suitable is “right or appropriate for a particular person, purpose, or situation”. So it needs to be right and appropriate for the person. So a size 11 shoe on a size 4 person isn’t suitable. A heavy knee high wellington boot with really wide soles is not suitable for a person who needs to climb narrow access ladders. A leather shoe for a person opposed to wearing animal products is not suitable. Especially when (this is the other saying) there are reasonably practicable alternatives which are suitable for the situation. They will also be compliant to the minimum safety standard set out by the international organisation for standardisation (ISO) which is currently EN ISO 20345:2011 (formerly EN ISO 20345:2007 but was updated in 2011. There may be some 2007 shoes out there that conform with the update and are suitable so long as they can be demonstrated to conform). This means that all safety shoes/boots must have a toe protection of 200 joule. Which is to prevent against broken toes from falling objects, 200 joules being the amount the toe area can take before breaking(ish). That is the bare minimum but there are other things to take into consideration depending on the hazards picked up by the risk assessment.
So if you start a new job and are required to wear safety shoes, please talk to your safety representative or direct to your safety manager/HR manager. Be polite and honest. Don’t be cocky or arrogant, just approach them and say that you are happy to wear safety footwear, but due to your personal lifestyle/beliefs etc you would require a shoe free from animal products.
Employers if you happen to be reading this and someone comes to you with the above, please remember your duty of care to your staff and be thankful that you have someone who is happy to wear the PPE required and engage with you about it. Like anything in business and indeed life, communicating is key. Open a dialogue and work with the staff to find the right product. If someone has had input into their PPE they are more likely to wear it and also work with you.
As I have mentioned, The Health and Safety at Work Act (1974) which is the daddy of all health and safety legislation in the UK states in section 9 that
” No employer shall levy or permit to be levied on any employee of his any charge in respect of anything done or provided in pursuance of any specific requirement of the relevant statutory provisions.”
In English this means that where there is a required safety measure employees must adhere to, they cannot be charged for it. This includes training, PPE, work equipment etc. This doesn’t mean, however that you can order a pair of £500 boots made from gold dipped and diamond encrusted kale or pineapple leather and not expect to have to contribute towards them. If suitable and sufficient safety equipment, training or PPE can be found for a lower amount the employer can pay that amount and you can pay the rest. For example, most businesses can source a safety shoe for around 20 quid but will maybe go for something nearer £30 so they can say they don’t just provide the cheapest one. If you see a shoe you prefer for £50 from the same supplier, they would pay the first £30 leaving you to pay the remainder (they don’t have to offer a choice though, but most will). This is fair and reasonable in my eyes. Obviously with a Medical condition there may not be a suitable shoe in that price range and it could be closer to £60 for an orthopaedic shoe. In which case the employer will need to pay the full £60. In some cases you may need a specialist shoe made for you due to a medical reason and I have been prepared in my job to do this and pay a couple of hundred pounds. It is the employers duty to ensure the safety of their staff as well as others effected by their business activities. It is the same with veganism, vegan safety shoes will more than likely be more expensive than a regular safety shoe. But it would still be reasonably practicable to source them to ensure a suitable shoe is worn. Sometimes there will be work processes where certain PPE needs to be worn and the cost of suitable PPE isn’t practicable or even available and the employer will need to look at removing the hazard (which they should do anyway as step one) or remove the person from the job. Either give them a new role where they won’t need to wear that particular PPE or ultimately, dismiss an employee. That sounds harsh, but there have been cases where an employee has been dismissed for not wearing PPE due to medical reasons and the business couldn’t accommodate them. This is because Health and Safety law trumps employment law. To get to that point though, the employee would need to be unreasonably cooperative. Employees have a duty to cooperate with an employer in relation to health and safety, this is written into law under section 7 of the Health and Safety at Work Act (1974) which states….
It shall be the duty of every employee while at work—
(a)to take reasonable care for the health and safety of himself and of other persons who may be affected by his acts or omissions at work; and
(b)as regards any duty or requirement imposed on his employer or any other person by or under any of the relevant statutory provisions, to co-operate with him so far as is necessary to enable that duty or requirement to be performed or complied with.
What this means is that you need to work with your employer in regards to health and safety. This is why people can be disciplined and sacked for failing to wear PPE, not following safety instructions (such as riding pallet trucks….we’ve all done it), using equipment or tools without permission or training etc.
Anyway I have proper rambled on now about safety legislation which I am sure you all enjoyed! So how about some places you can actually source some Vegan safety shoes and what do they look like?
Well for this post I have actually been doing some research and looking around online and there are loads of alternatives. There are boots, trainers, high tops, shoes etc. There is an awesome selection. They aren’t all from one place hidden away either, they are available from various places. First port of call for an employer will be their current suppliers, usually if they are a big company they will be able to source some vegan suitable footwear, even if they just buy it in and then ship it out to your employer with a handling fee. But failing that, you should take a look at the following places. I have been in touch with each of these companies about their safety shoes to find some feedback about what is most popular, why they started selling them etc.
First place I contacted was Amblers, who is a….. “leading British safety footwear brand that offers all-day comfort with plenty of ruggedness. With over 30 years of safety boot expertise, we [they] know all about protecting you at work in a stylish and dependable way.”
I spoke to Hailey Paget at Amblers and asked her what the most popular vegan shoe was and it is the FS151 picture below which, lets be honest, looks pretty decent! You wouldnt be able to tell that it was vegan looking at it. I have seen this online for around £25-30 which is no hardship for any employer to purchase.
They are compliant to EN ISO 20345:2011, they have good grip and heel protection. My choice of safety footwear is either a trainer or a boot and these look a good boot with ankle support (and if your job involves moving trolleys and the like, having that added padding on the ankle is nice). I will be buying a pair of these at some point to review, but I am currently saving for a wedding…..unless I could wear these for my wedding shoes hmmm. But they look good. I cant comment on comfort or how they feel when worn. My only concern would be the laces, the metal eyelets on that style tend to fray the laces pretty quickly. But that is obviously a minor detail.
(Some details about the FS151)
Here is some more from Hailey Paget:
Thank you for the question. It’s part of our mission for Amblers Safety to supply a wide range of safety footwear options to the end user.
For this we look at various market sectors in regular board meetings, and consumer enquiry comes into those discussions.
For example, in the past year we have had a huge focus on developing our female safety footwear, which has had an impact on attracting women into industries such as construction. This campaign has been supported by a Miss England finalist, construction worker, Sophie Lydia Smith.
Vegan safety footwear is still very much at its early development with the brand, but the AS707 Kyanite has been very popular. Trades people now want more from their footwear, they want to be able to wear them to work and then out and about after and still look trendy. They’re also breathable and lightweight, and since its launch last year has had a great reception from the likes of warehouse workers, delivery drivers, and general trades people. Even though it’s got underfoot protection, because it’s made of a composite material, it’s still flexible, especially when crouching or walking about.
Personally, I’m also passionate about getting Vegan safety footwear out in the market place. We have a team of enthusiastic designers and range-builders behind the brand. And safety is key – we do not want our workers to be compromised on lifestyle decisions when it comes to personal protection, or put themselves at risks.
Amblers had a great customer service, quick to answer my questions and offered some great information. They clearly want to develop their brand and be more inclusive and cater to as many needs as possible as the demand grows, which is great.
They also offer a couple of trainer styles which look pretty damn sweet too, pictured here.
(Top – AS707 Kyanite Orange (available in grey) Bottom: AS709 Ettrick)
As a company, they were helpful, knowledgeable and pretty progressive to add vegan shoes to their range. The prices I have seen have been reasonable and actually cheaper than I expected. I can’t comment on how the shoes feel etc but once I have ordered a pair I will do a review. Also, being as Amblers is a safety shoe company, there is a good possibility that businesses’ suppliers may be able to get these fairly easy meaning no additional suppliers etc.
The second place I spoke to was Eco Vegan Shoes, the name sort of tells you what you are getting. They are a shoe company that have vegan shoes, and they have some awesome vegan safety shoes.
(Don’t you just love seeing that Vegan logo?)
I emailed EVS about their range and got talking to Paul Smit about who their customers usually are, whether its individuals or businesses buying on behalf of individuals etc. This is what he had to say.
We both sell to end users and resellers. Our company started in the UK in 2012, but has been situated in The Netherlands since 2015. Since last year we have been creating the current webshop and I am searching for resellers worldwide.
So far we have resellers in Australia, Poland, the UK, The Netherlands, Germany, Lithuania, Italy and France. Our end users are from all over the world, but mainly from Europe, UK and USA. So far, about 80% of our sales are to end users, but we’re trying to more resellers.
The founder of the company, Phil Loyely, is British. For some reasons (unknown to me) the UK based company never managed to create a position in the vegan branch. The Netherlands has better logistics for shipping worldwide as well.
It’s amazing to see the growth of veganism in Eastern Europe. I guess Germany has a very strong vegan community as well. In my spare time I also do ‘my bit’ to make it a bigger stronger movement; I am a spokesman for PETA in the Netherlands, I volunteer for Meat Free Monday (I have just managed to have the city council of my hometown Gouda adopt Meat Free Monday) and I organize a monthly event called DocuDinner in which visitors (meat eaters and vegetarians) get to see the documentary ‘Cowspiracy’ and have a vegan meal afterwards. This event has become rather popular. Several vegan companies contribute products or brochures for the ‘goodie bags’ that we hand out afterwards. So… we’re a busy bunch:-)
The great thing Eco Vegan Shoes is that you know every item on their site is vegan from a company who have the environment and veganism literally in their name so whatever you order is going to be suitable. Also you know that they have people working there who are actively working towards creating more vegans and raising awareness which is incredible. To be able to buy from somewhere who’s ethos is veganism, its great!
According to Paul, these are the most popular shoe they sell at the moment:
(Easy Walker Advanced Swiss Fabric S3-SRC Safety Shoe Black)
If ever there was a time to use the word “dapper” it’s now for those bad boys.
They are also clearly marked on their site to be kind to animals, workers and the environment!!
(Isn’t this what we would like from every purchase? Kind to animals, workers and the environment. High quality. )
Personally, I have a pair of shoes from here which will be reviewed in a separate post (I am still wearing them in so I can be thorough in my review). But these are what I have. What i can say so far is they are super comfy and super light. They came with 5 pairs of in soles, 2 spare pairs of laces and a carry bag.
(These are the pair I currently wear, but I have a spare, in case these tear, although they wouldn’t dare. Not for the Vegan bear….. sorry :$ )
One of the things I love about these is there is a little tag with the Vegan logo on the tongue 😀 They do have quite a wide toecap at the end which at first glance is a little off putting, but that’s from the shoe being narrow from delivery. Once they are on they look great. I will go into more detail when I do a full review.
They have an amazing range of shoe on their site. Seriously, you should take a look at the safety shoes (and normal shoes) they have. It is a great company to support.
(Current range of safety shoes on Eco-Vegan-Shoes.com)
As you can see, the customer service was great. The range of products is great. The company ethos and commitment to veganism and the environment as well as workers is incredible and admirable. They are definitely worth checking out. The prices are in Euros as they are based in the Netherlands, the prices are higher than what i have seen Amblers placed at but the company you are buying from is a lot more eco/vegan. Go take a look!
There seems to be a natural comfort in threes. So I also contacted another place too! Vegetarian shoes and asked them the same question.
They have a big selection of shoes and their banner says “Cruelty-free vegan footwear……..” so that’s a bonus straight away. Like Eco-Vegan-Shoes they are geared towards that ethos from the start which helps when choosing products.
I emailed them and had the following reply.
We do sell a vegan safety boot which you can find more information about
We do deal with both customers, and with businesses that supply their
employees with work boots, so can accommodate both. We have definitely found
that there are a lot of businesses that are open to vegan requests for
safety shoes, and will go out of their way to accommodate that.
That’s so awesome to hear that they have seen a lot of businesses requesting vegan shoes for their workers. Which shows that no vegan should have to wear non vegan safety shoes. There is precedent being set that businesses are doing this. The safety shoe sold through Veggie shoes is below. From what I can see, it looks like just the one and the wording of the reply seems to back that up. It is a beaut though.
Like I said, it’s a cracking looking boot. It looks great and, again, you wouldn’t be able to tell that it was a vegan shoe. From another animal conscious company. These shoes come in around £100 so are a little pricey too. But it is from a company who care so you don’t mind paying a little more for that. Plus they do look bad ass right?
I’m not here to say which is best or what not, just to show the range that’s out there. You can grab a vegan boot for less than £30 from Amblers which any business/employer would be happy to do I am sure. You can have a great range offered from a company with activists working for them who care about the animals, planet and workers. You also have a solid looking boot option from a company with UK made products and animals in mind. There really is no excuse. So tell your employers, if you currently wear safety shoes from work and aren’t sure if they are Vegan see if you can google and find out. Ultimately, you already have them so you could let them wear out and when you replace them let them know that you would like a vegan shoe. I understand if you would rather change now though. I still have some DC trainers from before I went vegan which were my favourite shoes ever. I was going to wear them until they wear out, but I don’t like to wear them and people call me a hypocrite; plus since going vegan i have gotten to a point where even if people didn’t think that, I still feel uncomfortable wearing leather on my feet.
Anyway, this was a long ass post! Apologies if I bored you and well done if you got down this far!!
P.S I am a Technical member of the institute of occupational safety and health and a health and safety practitioner, if there are any vegan businesses/organisations who need some assistance with health and safety for an event or in general I am happy to volunteer my time should it be of any help. Contact me here or through my social media channels 🙂
*****UPDATE: I contacted the HSE who are basically the health and safety police to clarify the providing of PPE to vegans and had this response. (Love that it stars “Mr Bear” 😀
Thank you for contacting the Health and Safety Executive with your enquiry regarding the provision of personal protective equipment (PPE)
The regulations do not allow exemptions for vegans from wearing PPE where it is required to meet legal duties. However, the regulations and guidance state that when selecting PPE an employer should consider and take account the comfort of the person wearing it and that it may be appropriate to offer a range of products that meet the standard for the PPE required. – paras 40-43 of L25. Therefore an employer could source PPE that meets the standards and is acceptable for vegans to wear but they cannot charge an employee for it.
Under the Personal Protective Equipment at Work Regulations 1992 (PPE) an employer should provide PPE to their employees, where a risk assessment has identified a residual risk of injury to workers that cannot be managed in another way, and only then where it can be shown that providing PPE will further reduce the risk. i.e. the provision of PPE should be considered only when other methods of working or engineering solutions have been considered and found not to be suitable at removing the risk to an acceptable level.
An employer should assess and consider what is the most suitable PPE and this would depend on the PPEs ability to protect the wearer from risks.
Considerations should be around:
· Environmental conditions where the task is taking place.
· Does the PPE increase the risk or add new risks?
· Does the PPE fit the wearer properly?
· What are the job needs and demands on wearer?
All PPE provided should comply to the relevant European/British Standard for construction.
By virtue of Section 9 of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974, no charge can be made to the worker for the provision of PPE which is used only at work. – Paras 37-39 of L25
Section 9 states: “No employer shall levy or permit to be levied on any employee of his any charge in respect of anything done or provided in pursuance of any specific requirement of the relevant statutory provisions”. Section 9 applies to these Regulations because they impose a ‘specific requirement’ – i.e. to provide PPE
For further reference see:
Personal protective equipment at work – Personal Protective Equipment at Work Regulations 1992 – Guidance on Regulations (L25)
Personal protective equipment (PPE) at work – A brief guide
HSE’s role requires us to ensure that duty holders comply with legislation, however we do not prescribe in detail how that is achieved. Because every undertaking is unique and diverse the onus is on the duty holder to ensure that they comply with current legislation.
HSE is only able to provide generic information on health and safety issues and cannot give specific advice on individual cases, as the circumstances of each individual situation will be different. Any views given by us on the interpretation of the Regulations represent our best judgement at the time, based on the information available. Ultimately, only the courts can give an authoritative interpretation of the law when considering the application of the Health & Safety at Work etc Act 1974 and the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999. Accordingly we would always advise you to seek the views of your own professional advisors.