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25th January 2017

In light of today’s Parliamentary recommendation that employers do more to prevent dress code discrimination in the workplace, ELAS Group Operations Director Danny Clarke wanted to look closer at the health and safety implications of wearing high heels during the working day.

We conducted an online survey asking women whether they wore high heels to work, if their employers required them to wear high heels and whether or not there was health and safety guidance around footwear in their workplace. The results are as follows:

Q1 – Do you wear high heels to work?

  • Yes regularly – 28%
  • Yes occasionally – 24%
  • Rarely – 16%
  • Never – 31%

Q2 – Does your employer provide health and safety guidance around footwear in the workplace?

  • Yes – 36%
  • No – 42%
  • Not sure – 22%

Q3 – Does your employer require you to wear high heels or is it personal choice?

  • Personal choice – 76%
  • It’s in the dress code – 2%
  • I feel I should – 7%
  • Other – 15%  *Of these 7 said they were not allowed to wear high heels due to safety regulations and one flight attendant said they are required to wear a maximum of 2” to and from the aircraft and flat shoes while on the aircraft therefore technically they could fall in the dress code category. One respondent said it is their personal choice but it’s noted by their employer when they wear flats*

Q4 – Have you ever had an accident at work while wearing high heels?

  • No – 95%
  • Yes – 5%

Q5 – If you wear high heels to work, do you spend the majority of your day seated or standing?

  • Seated – 60%
  • Standing – 5%
  • Both – 15%

Q6 – Do you commute in your high heels or change into them when you arrive at work?

  • Drive to work – 61%
  • Public transport – 10%
  • Walk to work – 3%
  • Change into heels at work – 26%

Q7 – Does your employer suggest/provide footwear for the workplace?

  • Yes both – 12%
  • Yes suggest – 12%
  • Yes provide – 6%
  • No – 70%

Q8 – How do your feet feel at the end of the day?

  • Fine I could dance all night – 44%
  • Can’t wait to take heels off – 37%
  • I can barely walk – 3%
  • Other – 16%

Q9 – What is your age?

  • 18 to 24 – 8%
  • 25 to 34 – 16%
  • 35 to 44 – 34%
  • 45 to 54 – 25%
  • 55 to 64 – 15%
  • 65+ – 2%

Danny Clarke says: “The results of our survey clearly show that while most women wear heels to work out of personal choice, others are told that they need to or feel that they should. One respondent said it was noted by their employer when they wore flat shoes. Most employees are unaware of any health and safety guidance provided by their employers regarding footwear in the workplace – those that were aware typically worked in industries where heels were restricted e.g. the police, construction or airline industries.

“5% of respondees said they have had an accident at work while wearing high heels. The majority of these were trips and blisters although one person had broken their toes. What’s more concerning, however, is the potential for long term injury as a result of wearing high heels for any length of time.”

In 2009 the College of Podiatry and the TUC called on employers to protect women at work by giving them a choice of footwear because of the long term problems high heels can cause. They said that around 2 million days a year are lost through sickness as a result of lower limb disorders and the study showed that the impact of high heels on feet includes:

  • Throwing weight onto the ball of the foot, which may lead to callous, painful bunions, corns and deformity.
  • Pushing the centre of mass in the body forwards, causing the spine to bend backwards to compensate. This can lead to back problems.
  • The position of the foot in the shoe combined with an often-narrow heel width can cause the ankle to become unstable, resulting in ankle sprains.
  • The calf muscle may shorten and tighten. Wearing high-heels for long periods – more than six months – may cause the calf muscle to become shortened all the time. The body compensates for this tightness in the calf-muscle by lowering the arch of the foot, or affecting the knee, hip or back.

Clarke says: “With research highlighting the long-term musculoskeletal damage which can occur as a result of wearing high heels it may be time for employers to review their dress codes. Taking into account employers’ duty of care to protect their employees’ health in the workplace, I would suggest that they consider looking at whether or not the requirement to wear high heels is necessary. If employees spend the majority of the day on their feet, are required to carry heavy or awkward loads or walk any kind of distance then we would recommend this be taken into account.

“While there is nothing wrong with wanting to maintain a professional image in the workplace, employers should look at whether they are putting employees at risk. A comprehensive risk assessment should look at whether there is an impact on an employee from wearing high heels in a particular job, whether an employee has back pain or other medical issues and how they might be affected in the role. If issues aren’t identified before an employee starts work then it is possible that the employer might contribute to the employee’s back pain. Likewise if an employer requires employees to wear high heels purely for aesthetic reasons then they could be at risk of a discrimination claim. Where dress codes are implemented in workplaces where employees are not client-facing then consideration should be given as to the necessity of this.”


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