Q&A on whether deminers should wear blast boots?

 

 

Question: “Please explain why deminers do not wear mine-proof boots….”

The Humanitarian Demining industry has discussed this a few times and (despite heavy sales pitches by Canadian and UK blast boot vendors), the boots have been rejected for two main reasons.

1) In general, field people agree that there is something wrong with the idea that a deminer who has searched and cleared the ground needs to wear foot protection in order to walk on it. If he is working properly, any hazards should be cleared before his foot falls there. If he believes it may not be, he should search and clear it, not try to protect against the consequences – because the civilian who uses the land tomorrow will not have any chance of protecting against “the consequences”. Exceptions to this argument may occur during survey and CASEVAC, when weight spreading “snow-shoe” protection has occasionally been tried. These are little used, probably because they often make the wearer slow and unstable on rough or overgrown land.

Anyone wearing inflatable "boots" needs to walk like a duck over smooth ground without significant undergrowth and is deliberately leaving mines behind - so is definitely not engaged in Humanitarian Demining. They were designed for rapid minefield breeching in combat and that is their only regular use.

2) None of the available blast boots fully protect against any AP blast mine, and the independent scientific evidence suggests they are useless against the size of mine that most deminers are clearing. See United States Army Institute of Surgical Research (USAISR) Lower Extremity Assessment Programme (LEAP) study:- leap99-2/leap99_2_report_vol2.asp for the best scientific evidence of this (to date). Other studies have been made by manufacturers – but usually lack the objectivity of genuinely disinterested inquiry.

A WELCO blast boot after the wearer stepped on a PMA-3 (35g Tetryl) in Bosnia. The wearer lost his foot. DDASaccident

Because blast-boots (mine-boots) are unproven, they are awarded the lowest International Mine Action Standards IMAS requirement - one that says that a user of the IMAS “may” like to consider their use. Even that low level of requirement is made conditional on there being new evidence that they are effective.

On blast-resistant footwear, the 2013 IMAS 10.30 reads:

“...organisations may consider providing blast resistant boots for the protection of feet and lower limbs where there is a significant risk that cannot be reduced by SOPs [Standard Operating Procedures] alone. However, the blast boots being considered should be proven to be effective in reducing the risk…. The effectiveness and operational benefits of mine boots is still a contentious issue… the benefits are unproven. There is currently a danger that they offer “false security.”

……………….

All that sounds conclusive, BUT....

I have checked the new accident data to see whether there is any evidence of blast boot effectiveness… and I find that THERE IS now some positive evidence of efficacy – with mines containing the smallest amounts of High Explosive.

Alongside actual accident reports, I gather stories. For example, I have gathered anecdotal evidence of boots providing protection against the 30g Tetryl P4Mk2 and also with 100+g PE filled Tiger mines in Sri Lanka. Unfortunately, these accidents involved the military and so I have been unable to get any documented evidence to support the tales. My own experience leads me to doubt tales involving the Jony-95 PE filled mine, but the P4 stories are credible.

The $10 overboot shown above is reported to have been successful for the army in Sri Lanka. This example is shown after stepping on a P4.

it is always irritating to get a photo and no written report to back it up….

 

- but I do have well documented evidence for the success of the Singapore (BFR) boot above - against a P4 on the ground surface in Sri Lanka. This BFR boot (with its minimally raised sole) survived the blast looking like this:

DDASaccident.pdf

More important, its wearer survived with:

“a) laceration of the distal part of the sole of the right foot and multiple lacerations at the roots of the toes.

b) Fractures of bodies of all the metatarsals of the right foot.

c) Fractures of the proximal phalanges of the 1st to the 4th toes of the right foot.

d) Dislocation of the ankle with talus slipping forwards.”

The victim "was operated on four times” fairly quickly and had unknown subsequent physiotherapy. He kept his foot, got his compensation, and started a bakery.

The evidence of this accident (and the anecdotal evidence from the Sri Lankan army) appears to contradict the findings of the LEAP study… Perhaps there were reasons for the LEAP study’s findings to have been very reserved – leaving the reader to draw their own conclusions?

For those who don’t know, the US Department of Defence LEAP study involved testing a range of supposedly blast-resistant boots being worn on real legs – the limbs of cadavers, of course. If you compare the LEAP results against the outcome of real events recorded in the Database of Demining Incidents and Victims there is a large discrepancy. The severity of injuries recorded in LEAP (and the predictions of subsequent surgical intervention that would be required) is consistently far worse than what really happens. This implies that something was wrong with the way that the LEAP group drew conclusions, if not the testing methods.

I suspect that the testing methods were ill-conceived. The cadavers were very old and the frozen/thawed corpses had been cut about to fit pressure transducers internally. This may have made it inevitable that greater damage than was realistic would be recorded?

Or perhaps the error was introduced during the post-test assessment? The medical specialists may have been too strict about the need to amputate high to avoid infection following the blasts?

Alternatively, the explosive charges may not have accurately simulated mines?

Whatever the reason, the "proof" that the LEAP study gives over the pointlessness of wearing blast-boots is brought into real question because its results do not come close to matching reality.

There may be a point in wearing blast boots (especially low-profile boots that do not make the wearer clumsy) in areas with very small blast mines… perhaps for survey, CASEVAC or even QC. However, I have tested some in the field, and the clumsy discomfort involved means that I would never willingly wear them again.

 

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