The Hazards of High Heels
Finding one of the most common workplace hazards in a hospitality industry workplace can be as simple as looking down…at your feet. Those 3” high stilettos your servers are wearing are far more than an attractive accessory. They are a serious health and safety hazard.
About a third of women who wear high heels will admit to having fallen while wearing them, though it’s likely that many of these incidents were never officially reported. And even those who can avoid a slip or trip and fall while navigating their work environment are at increased risk for many long-term health issues associated with wearing high heels, anything from chronic back pain due to overarching of the back, to shortening of the calf muscles resulting in painful muscle spasms. High heels also commonly lead to plantar fasciitis, bunions, ingrown toenails, hammertoes, tendon damage, and osteoarthritis in the knees. The higher the heel, the greater the impact on the body.
Ironically, this is one hazard that is often introduced by the employer as a mandatory (though unofficial) condition of employment. High heels make a woman’s feet look smaller, her legs look longer, and her leg muscles appear firmer and better defined. They are designed to make a woman appear more attractive, and attractive staff bring in more customers and encourage them to spend more money and tip better. But requiring a woman to dress provocatively as a condition of employment may mean employers are in violation of provincial legislation designed to protect Alberta workers. Consider that a high heel dress code can lead to sexual harassment of female employees, something that is in clear violation of the Alberta Human Rights Act. Obliging someone who is on their feet for most of their shift to wear high heeled shoes may also be a violation of Occupational Health and Safety legislation, which requires every employer to ensure the health and safety of their workers (OHS Act, Section 2(1)), assess the work site for “existing and potential hazards before work begins” (OHS Code Part 2, Section 7(1)), and “take measures…to eliminate the hazard” (OHS Code, Part 2, Section 9(1a)). The health and safety hazards of prolonged high heel use are well documented, and employers are responsible to identify and mitigate these hazards to their workers.
While completely eliminating high heel shoes from your work environment may not be practical, employers should steer clear of policies that make heels a condition of employment. Hospitality industry employees who make the choice to wear high heels should be informed of the hazards, and involved in conversations about ways to control for them. For example, employers should be reasonable about the height of heels allowed in the workplace. They should encourage staff to avoid uncomfortable or tight shoes and consider using insoles that help reduce slippage and absorb shock. Staff should be discouraged from running in high heeled shoes, and advised to massage their feet and legs after taking shoes off. Hospitality workers should also understand the expectation to report slips, trips and falls and any incidents of sexual harassment, and the employer should take steps to protect staff from these hazards.
High heels are just one of many potential workplace hazards that need to be identified, assessed and controlled in order for employers to remain in compliance with OHS legislation, and avoid injuries to the workers for which you are responsible. For more information about assessing the hazard in your hospitality industry work site, contact the Alberta Hospitality Safety Association (firstname.lastname@example.org).