electro-insulating (dielectric) boots︎

Electro-insulating boots, inventory No. MIM 2768/IV/615; created: 1980s, 20 th century; manufacturer: unknown; location: Poland; materials: rubber, fabric; dimensions [mm]: H 225, W 130, L 325.


Electro-insulating boots are overboots placed over work shoes that are made of natural rubber which has been vulcanised. These boots constitute part of the personal protective equipment used by working individuals (#operational_health_and_safety – OHS #protective_clothing). Such boots are characterized by heightened electrical insulation and are intended for work with equipment running voltages up to 17 kV AC. The boots are subject to inspection and undergo testing twelve months after they have been manufactured.

Official written sources list the wearing of dielectric boots among the mandatory protective measures to be taken by any electrician or wireman. Contemporary and historical OHS manuals and guidebooks, originating in the 1950s and later periods, classify electro-insulating boots as the “basic equipment of a wireman”.

The work of an electrician or a wireman is highly dangerous. Its most significant hazards include: “Electric shock, possible electric arc burn, hazardous UV radiation” (#accidents_at_work). Electro-insulating boots are classified as protective equipment, but one OHS manual states that an employee is protected against the aforementioned threats primarily by procedures, such as securing the workplace. Work tools and protective equipment are considered to be of lesser importance as protective measures. Perhaps this is why electro-insulating rubber boots are not referred to in sources discussing everyday work experience. The boots do not appear in the memoirs of electricians or wiremen at all.

Meanwhile, these sources do mention other work tools that an electrician utilises. For example, the author of a contemporary blog “The Electrician’s Diary” („Z pamiętnika elektryka”, 2015) mentions the lack of equipment testing for OHS insulating gloves. This is mentioned solely as an introduction to an anecdote, the topic of which is completely different. Only insulating gloves and a safety helmet are referred to in the context of safety (#protective_clothing).

Iconographic exhibits constituting photographs taken between the 1930s and 1970s show electricians and wiremen working on HV pylons wearing regular work clothing and footwear, such as leather ankle boots or even Derby shoes. Wiremen photographed electrifying the countryside in the late 1960s wear standard knee-length rubber boots (#work_clothing).

Does the fact that dielectric boots do not feature in photographs or memoirs mean that they were not used? Was there a problem with access to specialised footwear? Perhaps the wiremen seen in the photographs use regular work footwear since they are certain that the systems are not electrified, which corroborates the belief that only procedures are the main guarantee of safety. Especially if neglected, protective equipment will not guarantee that a high-voltage wiremen is protected against an accident. Nonetheless, it is evident that electricians wore insulating rubber boots, as it was their task to verify whether voltage was present in high-voltage cables. Such duties were common in workplaces such as mines.
The structure of electro-insulating boots, as roomy overboots, increases the physical discomfort of a wireman working at heights (#work_at_height #outdoor_work). The job is not only dangerous, but also #cumbersome.

It may be that the lack of references to dielectric boots in the memoirs of electricians is justified by the fact that they were a protective clothing element inherent to the task, in the way that the wearing of a helmet is inherent to the tasks of a miner.
The dissonance between what official sources, such as documents setting out work safety standards, say and what other sources say means that when it comes to dielectric boots, there are more questions than statements regarding their actual use. In turn, these questions necessitate a search for successive source groups, so that dielectric boots may be positioned relative to other objects (in the case of an electrician conducting different tasks – to other tools, equipment, and various activities).