Vale miners put Longwall 11 to test
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They are your most important items of personal protective equipment. You stand on them for up to 10 hours a day, drop things on them, immerse them in water and subject them to the punishing conditions of an underground mine.
You could go through three or four pairs a year, or more if they’re not up to the task. And if they don’t provide the protection and support you need, you could end up spending more time at the podiatrist’s office than at the face.
A good pair of work boots is a miner’s best friend.
Looking to break into the Canadian market, U.S.-based Lacrosse Footwear Inc. product line manager Hans Albing met with Vale health and safety management in September, toured the company’s Garson Mine in Sudbury and fitted a dozen miners with the company’s new Longwall 11 work boot for a 30-day trial.
Albing hopes the miners like the boot and Vale agrees to give the product its stamp of approval, but if there’s one thing about which miners are opinionated, it’s their boots.
Chief among their complaints is waterproofing, confides Albing.
“If they’re not used to leather boots, it’s the first thing they complain about because they want to make sure their feet stay dry. A lot of guys don’t trust leather boots if they’ve been wearing a rubber product.”
However, properly waterproofed, leather has some definite advantages over rubber, according to Albing.
“The main benefits are fit sand comfort. A rubber boot typically isn’t offered in half sizes and you don’t have the support you get from a lacing system because laces allow the boot to conform to the size of your foot.
“Rubber boots tend to be viewed as being more waterproof because it’s a solid material all the way up,” but the same waterproofing protection can also be achieved by a leather boot, insisted Albing.
“We use only Goretex premium branded waterproofing. It’s a waterproof membrane that’s also breathable, so it keeps your foot cool, but provides 100 per cent guaranteed waterproof protection all the way up to the top of the boot.”
The other thing miners complain about is their laces.
“Workboot laces have to contend with a lot of harsh environments and miners don’t like replacing them very often if they can help it, so we designed the Longwall 11 with rounded edges on the eyelets and treated the laces themselves with a polyurethane coating for improved abrasion resistance,” said Albing.
Lacrosse Footwear puts its laces through a flex test using a mechanical device to simulate flexing in both wet and dry conditions.
“We try to get at least 20,000 flexes before our laces show any signs of wear, but with miners’ boots, we try to get 100,000 flexes,” said Albing. “With these new polyurethane coated laces, we get over 400,000 flexes without seeing any signs of wear.”
Comfort, another major concern, is enhanced by using a premium polyurethane footbed “with a stiffer density in the arch for support and a nice, cushioning polymer under the heel and the forefoot.”
Abrasion resistance on the Longwall 11 is achieved by using Vibram rubber shielding covering the toe, the sides of the boot as well as the heel.
“For the Longwall 11, we’re using a molded component versus a die-cut component that allows us to have multiple densities, so now we have a thicker density of rubber in the key abrasion areas. We’re not adding weight where we don’t have to, but adding abrasion resistance in key areas.”
Of course, the work boot also has to provide impact resistance on the toe and metatarsal as well as puncture resistance in the sole.
For toe protection, Lacrosse Footwear uses a composite material instead of steel to avoid the transfer of the outside temperature to the foot. For the metatarsal protection, the boot is equipped with a breathable poyurethane guard.
Getting a thumbs up from the dozen Vale miners may end up being the toughest test for the Longwall 11, but it’s not the only one.
Before Lacrosse Footwear can sell the Longwall 11 in Canada, it has to receive approval from the Canadian Safety Association and emblazon the boot with the CSA’s green triangle certifying its compliance with safety standards.
Albing expects the Longwall 11 to be in stores in Sudbury and across Canada sometime early next year.