Working In These Times
Trades Union Council Steps on High Heels
Waitresses, airline attendants, sales people and bank employees in the UK and abroad are routinely required to wear heels as part of their work uniform or dress code.
Last month, the UK's Trades Union Council (TUC) took issue with this, passing a resolution requiring employers to conduct a health risk assessment if their dress codes require women to wear high heels. If high heels are found to pose a risk, employees will be entitled to choose more comfortable foodwear.
The TCU was unaccountably savaged in the press for sexism. There is no logic to this charge, except, conceivably, that the resolution didn't apply to hypothetical male workers forced to wear heels.
On the contrary, it would be sexist to ignore the potential risks of high heels at work. Many commentators dismissed high heels at work as a trivial issue, even though there is extensive research linking high heels to foot problems. Each step in a high heel delivers many times the shock to the foot and spreads that force over a smaller area.
A new study in the journal Arthritis Care & Research shows women who regularly wear non-ergonomic shoes are at increased risk for foot and ankle pain in their sixties and seventies. "Young women," said researcher Alyssa B. Dufour, "should make careful choices regarding their shoe types in order to potentially avoid hind-foot pain later in life."
High heels are recognized as a tripping and slipping hazard by the UK's Health and Safety Commission (HSC), Canda's Safety Council and the U.S.'s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Trip and slip accidents comprise the most common category of industrial mishaps, according to the HSC.
Contrary to media reports, the TUC resolution does not ban high heels from the workplace. It simply requires employers to assess the risks of high heels in a particular job. Whether heels are safe depends on the specific tasks of the employee, how long she has to stand, and other factors.
If heels are found to be risky, employees should be able to choose other shoes. Surely, that is a step in the right direction.
Editor's note: This post has been updated to correct a typographical error.