Composite Toe Fast on the Heels of Steel

Composite Toe Fast on the Heels of Steel

PLH Group employees who specialize in Oil Pipeline Construction, wear safety footwear to effectively ward off any underlying hazards they may encounter.

In the PLH Group powerline and pipeline contractor industries your boot needs to conquer the work environment. Not the other way around.

If you are in the market for a new pair of work boots, chances are your safety director has set the required parameters for your upcoming purchase. But what if you have the option of choosing between a steel, alloy or composite toe? Let’s take a look at some of the guidelines that help solve this safety toe selection.

What are these materials?

A composite toe is a Fiber Reinforced Plastic or Polymer (FRP). It is thermo-formed from two components such as resins and fiberglass and does not contain metals. Kevlar is a popular composite often used in safety toe footwear.

An alloy is created by combining two or more materials, one or both of them being a metal. Some common metals used in alloy toes are aluminum and titanium.

Steel is also an alloy made of iron and carbon but an alloy toe refers to a more lightweight aluminum or titanium cousin.


Example of boot specs

OSHA and ASTM Standards

Whether it’s steel, composite or alloy, all safety toe footwear must pass the same impact and compression laboratory tests to be rated ASTM F2413-11 M I/75 C/75 which is most likely the minimum protection you’ll need to wear at these various industry jobsites. This certification will be clearly marked on the boot itself.

To decipher and arrive at this invaluable boot code, think of it as a kind of trickle down setting of standards. First OSHA mandates compliance with foot protection criteria based on consensus standards with its’ three main concerns being falling or rolling objects, piercing of the sole and electrical hazards. Then OSHA hands it off to the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) to define and set the standards for test methods and performance requirements.

Protective footwear with this particular certification indicates the boot has met the ASTM standard of F2413 performance requirements issued in year 2011. To pass these ASTM issued tests the toe must be able to resist 75 pounds of impact (being hit by a falling object) and also 2500 pounds of compression (being rolled over or crushed.) The ‘M’ denotes male footwear while an ‘F’ is female.

Your work boot is actually specialty footwear that needs to fit your job environment. The certification on the boot will tell the story. Photo courtesy of Construction Images


Keeping toes safe is important, but it’s crucial not to focus exclusively on toe protection and overlook other footwear requirements. Does the work being performed also require protection over the metatarsal area? Will the wearer need strong tread to mitigate slipping? Will the work involve long hours on one’s feet, making comfort critical? Great boots not only meet or exceed safety standards, but offer the right combination of features to address the work environment

– Jim Bailey, Managing Director of Americas, Red Wing Shoe Company

Additional ASTM Certified Protection

Edison Power Constructors, a PLH Group Company, require a tough boot with a certified toe cap for transmission line construction & maintenance.

Your work boot is actually specialty footwear that needs to fit your job environment. Jim Bailey, Red Wing’s Managing Director for the Americas emphasizes the importance of thinking beyond the toe when it comes to safety and says “it all comes down to a combination of features that best address the work at hand.” He also adds “Keeping toes safe is important, but it’s crucial not to focus exclusively on toe protection and overlook other footwear requirements.”

After meeting ASTM impact and compression testing requirements, a work boot may then be further tested and certified for more finely tuned safety needs. Additional built in protection will be on the boot label certified as EH (electrical hazard), Mt/75 (metatarsal protection) or PR (puncture resistant). Again, all three types of materials must pass the corresponding ASTM tests to qualify for any of these extra certifications including steel and alloy. However, if any metal should become exposed in your footwear it could pose a threat when working with electricity.


Composite toes have come a long way. It wasn’t that many years ago when you could really tell which boots had composite toes in them because of their shape and thickness of the toes, there was not a lot of variety to choose from as a manufacturer. Since then, the composite toes have become stronger with less bulk and there are many more options with composite to fit a particular boot last you may have. It is our number one selling safety toe currently.

– Jim Hoffman, Hoffman Boots

Know Your Toe – Weight, Temperature and Wear

Viola. You are now able to choose from a variety of available boot stock. But the question remains – which toe material to purchase? The answer may lie within the behaviors of these materials and their structural properties.

Composite toes have a lot going for them. They do not conduct heat or cold like steel thereby keeping your foot warmer in winter and cooler in summer. In fact, Jim Hoffman of Hoffman Boots says composite toe are his number one seller because of their ability to protect from the cold. He adds “a composite does help a bit in this area.”

Composites are also non-metallic, non-magnetic and can be 50% lighter than steel and 30% lighter than an alloy, aiding in the reduction of leg and foot fatigue.

Steel does, however, still have a purpose in a work boot. Numerous boot brands have a composite toe and some even have a composite internal metatarsal guard. These boots are off to a composite start, but then may also include a steel shank or steel puncture resistant sole plate. So although you can get the same ASTM certified protection with a composite, alloy or steel toe, oftentimes the extra features built into safety footwear are made from steel deeming them as a current industry staple.

But that is quickly changing. Every day science makes advances in composite and metal combinations from a high-entropy alloy to a ‘super steel’ and even glassy metal. Firefighters are offered a complete composite boot that actually exceeds the ASTM F2413 standard by 25%. These are surely the materials and design of the future for your own work boots and for some brands that future is now.

Red Wing Shoes is one company that has the best of both worlds. Yes, they do have a variety of boots that incorporate steel components for various protections but also offer some completely metal-free safety boots. In some cases, a high-impact, gel-based metguard is injected into the boot. These boots are rated ASTM F2413-11, M/I/75/C/75, Mt/75, EH making them a non-metallic option with those desired added safety features.


You’re going to be on your feet all day, so don’t overlook comfort when buying your safety toes. A roomier toe box can aid in this and some boots even have a custom asymmetrical steel-toe design.





Know When to Replace Your Boots

Close inspection of your footwear for damage and wear is essential. If any metal is showing, throw them out. If a heavy object should fall on your boot, even if it is a mild impact, the safety integrity is compromised and it’s time to replace them whether metal or composite toe. These rules of thumb can go a long way in saving your toes and feet.

For a quick video reference on safety footwear visit

A huge thank you to Red Wing Shoes, Carhartt, Hoffman Boots, Dunlop, Danner and Construction Images for the photos included in this article.