The Grainger shoe mobile parked on the UMB campus.

An Administration and Finance employee makes footing the bill for protective footwear a little easier with a shoe mobile.

Those who say they’re operating on a “shoestring budget” have probably never had to purchase protective footwear. A requirement for many positions, the specialty footwear can set one back anywhere from less than $100 to well over $500. This is why Jim Bolton, assistant director, Occupational Safety and Health, Environmental Health and Safety (EHS), sought to change the way things are done.

In the past, EHS and other employees were given a $150 stipend to procure their own protective footwear. In this old arrangement, there was no requirement to show proof of purchase, no requirement to return the unused portion of the stipend, and no way to leverage the University of Maryland, Baltimore’s (UMB) collective purchasing power. It was an inefficient process that left a lot of room for unintended consequences.

To solve this issue, Bolton reached out to several safety shoe providers to inquire about on-site safety shoe services. In doing so, he discovered that Grainger — a leading distributor of industrial and safety supplies that serves a diverse group of public- and private-sector customers — mans a ready-to-roll “shoe mobile.”

The mobile store travels to worksites and assists staff in selecting their shoes. According to its website:

Safety footwear comes directly to your facility as a scheduled event, with a wide range of styles and sizes stocked in our 45’ tractor-trailers or 26’ trucks. Employees have the opportunity to try on shoes and boots to help ensure the right fit with professional help and support from Grainger’s trained Service Representatives. 

Typically, the shoe mobile is so well-stocked that staff walk away with their new shoes that same day. 

Working with UMB, Grainger set up an account for each eligible staff member. In addition to streamlining the process, this meant that any staff member who might not be present the day of the event could log on to the Grainger website and purchase shoes. The agreement also arranged for all shoes to be shipped to and, if necessary, returned from UMB campus, to alleviate any difficulties in exchanging shoes.

In bringing the shoe mobile to the campus, staff could now easily obtain protective footwear that’s comfortable to work in, stands up to the rigors of the job, and is often available for less than the $150 stipend. 

The savings aspect was significant. According to Sherry Bohn, PhD, MSL, CBSP (ABSA), acting director of EHS in the Administration and Finance department, UMB “has realized an average savings of $38.68 per person. The cumulative savings compared to the stipend for the day of event is $3,210.64 [cost of $9,239.36 compared to a stipend of $12,450]. … The savings is estimated at $4,951.04 [cost of $14,248.96 compared to a stipend of $19,200].”

To ensure that the event went smoothly and all employees had access, Bolton arranged for staff from various departments to arrive in shifts. According to records, 64.8 percent of 128 eligible staff across three departments attended the event.

In setting up the event and formalizing the relationship, there were significant hurdles to overcome and a great amount of coordination required. But not only did the investment pay off, but this model also can be used in the future, as Grainger will come and host this event every two years.

“Jim knew we have staff that handle heavy materials and work around equipment, wear lead shielding, and visit laboratories under construction, so he ensured EHS staff were invited. I am so happy this event was a success,” Bohn said.

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