Collaboration to improve underground miner wellbeing recognised as industry-leading

An innovative new work boot developed by Gunnedah-based podiatrist Penny Crawford alongside Whitehaven Coal’s Narrabri team has been recognised as an industry-leading health innovation at the NSW Mining Health, Safety, Environment and Community Awards.

Alongside a team of industrial designers, specialised manufacturers and traditional rubber boot craftsmen, Penny developed the WedgeTech™ Personalised Lock-Fit System, which locks the foot into a stable position in the boot. The wedge is inserted in the boot at the front of the ankle, limiting excess movement and creating a firm and secure fit.

“We were seeing workers experiencing foot, ankle and leg pain – injuries that can have an impact beyond the workplace – and approached Penny seeking a podiatry assessment for some of our people, to look at ways to reduce the pain and improve their wellbeing,” said Scott Ginnivan, Safety and Training Superintendent at the Narrabri Underground.

“Penny identified these health issues were likely developing due to footwear providing inadequate support in the unstable underground environment, increasing muscle fatigue and foot & lower leg problems as a result.”

Ms Crawford said, “Over the years, many underground miners had come through my podiatry practice – people who spend their working day walking around the wet, dark and uneven surfaces of the underground environment.

“I’d been working on designing a superior waterproof safety work boot to provide more stability underground, and help reduce aches and strains. I wanted a boot with both the fit characteristics of leather safety boots and the waterproof capability of rubber gumboots.”

Penny worked with Whitehaven to trial the boots, and adjusted the design based on employee feedback. After 6 months, 24 out of 25 survey participants said they would recommend the boots, 75% were still wearing Crawford Boots 12 months on, and they reported a reduction of muscle fatigue and pain, demonstrating a positive effect on foot and leg health.

One of the Narrabri miners to benefit is Bruce Tetrin. The 45-year old underground fitter has worked at Narrabri for 7 years, and has been in the industry for about 15 years. Bruce’s role involves a significant amount of walking, sometimes walking the entire belt system – almost 12 km – in one shift.

“In the first week after swapping to Crawford Boots, my children noticed the change – I didn’t walk funny anymore and played for longer with them in our yard after work. The boots are the right fit and so comfortable. The result is more than just a good pair of boots for myself and my family,” he said.

“It’s been a real win-win for us. Penny has been able to test and refine the design of her product, and our people have seen real improvements and health and wellbeing,” added Mr Ginnivan. “Having our collaboration recognised as industry-leading is an added bonus.”

Pictured: NSW Minerals Council CEO Stephen Galilee, Whitehaven Coal Safety and Training Superintendent Scott Ginnivan, Penny Crawford, with Deputy Premier John Barilaro