Metatarsal Guards


Words / Jon Gibson – For Earthmoving Equipment Magazine

Feet. Sometimes they’re smelly and disgusting, sometimes hairy and sometimes prone to blisters. However, sometimes we feel amazing sensations through them like sand between our toes, lush grass or a foot rub from a partner.

Like them or not, they’re a pretty amazing part of our bodies that sustain our full body weight and more during work, sport and play. There are 26 bones, 33 joints, 107 ligaments and 19 muscles and tendons in one single human foot. The 52 bones in your feet make up approximately 25 per cent of all the bones in your body. The bones located between the toes and the ankle bones are known as the metatarsals (or metatarsus).

The metatarsus is a group of five long bones in the human foot; these are also the five longest bones, which can usually be felt from the top of your foot (with a bit of probing).

The metatarsal bones are numbered from the big toe: the first, second, third, fourth and fifth metatarsal. Due to the mechanics and structure of the foot, these metatarsal bones are the most common bones to fracture and break during sporting, recreational or occupational endeavours. These are often referred to as “march injuries” due to the frequency of fractures sustained by soldiers during long marches.

The design of many traditional hard toe boots do not provide any protection for the metatarsal bone group and therefore they leave this part of the foot largely exposed in the incidence of manual handling accidents. We’ve seen an increase in major  infrastructure and mining projects starting to make metatarsal protection mandatory on their sites as a control measure to minimise lost time injuries. A metatarsal bone injury can take weeks, months, or even years to reach full recovery. If you’ve ever dropped something heavy on your foot, you’ll know how much it hurts. This is largely due to the absence of muscle or soft tissue on the top of the average foot, and the minimal protection provided for the many bones and other internal workings of the foot.

Many mining and major infrastructure projects are now making metatarsal protection mandatory on site. You have a couple of options here: a boot incorporating metatarsal protection or, an accessory-type guard that can be fitted to your existing hard-toe foot wear. They’re not cheap, but in comparison to the impact a serious foot injury can have on your income and lifestyle, prevention is better than cure. If you choose a work boot that incorporates metatarsal protection, make sure the boot offers sufficient flexibility to enable you to perform the requirements of your role. Like any work boot, those incorporating metatarsal protection are technically an item of PPE and must be maintained, cleaned and stored accordingly. Most importantly however is the need for training on their correct fitment and care. If you’re providing any type of PPE for your staff, it’s important to keep records of issue and any associated training you provide.

The same applies with regards to the slip-on metatarsal guard. It is important to ensure that the selected guard system poses no heightened level of risk due to its shape and fitment with your existing foot wear. Look at more than one option and try them with your boot prior to deciding to go with this option. The last thing you want to do is either introduce a new hazard or make your current footwear uncomfortable or impractical. You may choose to buy an incorporated boot after all.

If you don’t have metatarsal protection and you sustain an injury, it’s important to treat it with the correct first aid strategy and seek medical advice. If your boot hasn’t ruptured or compromised and you don’t believe there is any bleeding, the best approach is the RICE method as follows:

  • Rest – Stay off the injured foot. Walking may cause further injury
  • Ice – Apply an ice pack to the injured area, placing a thin towel between the ice and the skin. Use ice for 20 minutes and then wait at least 40 minutes before icing again
  • Compression – An elastic wrap should be used to control swelling
  • Elevation – The foot should be raised slightly above the level of your heart to reduce swelling

Look after your feet, risk assess the requirement for metatarsal protection and incorporate this into your SWMS.

Take care and stay safe.

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