HEALTH

The shocking truth about Crocs

Why some hospitals are moving toward a ban on the colourful foam clog

CATHY GULLI June 4 2007
HEALTH

The shocking truth about Crocs

Why some hospitals are moving toward a ban on the colourful foam clog

CATHY GULLI June 4 2007

The shocking truth about Crocs

HEALTH

Why some hospitals are moving toward a ban on the colourful foam clog

CATHY GULLI

Few consumer products have inspired the kind of fanatic loyalty Crocs owners feel for their foam clogs. The Boulder, Colo.-based company has captured the soles of a wide range of professionals who otherwise claim no particular affinity for Dutch fashion. Among the most devoted fans are health care workers. Nearly 200 of them, including many from Canada, have posted emphatic testimonials on the company’s website. Wearing Crocs, they say, is just like walking on “pillows” or “marshmallows.” Crocs are nothing short of “a nurse’s best friend.” They “can change your life.” The bonus, another worker writes, is that nurses and doctors can purchase a pair in every colour to match any shade of medical scrubs— colour coordination goes a long way “to make the patients feel better or more at ease.”

But not everyone is so enthusiastic. An increasing number of hospitals and health centres are moving toward banning Crocs and Crocs knock-offs from their facilities for fear the shoes have endangered both patients and staff. The main offenders appear to be

the popular Beach and Cayman models, which have holes on top, side vents and a back strap rather than a closed heel. They allegedly have been responsible for infection control hazards because bodily fluids such as blood have spilled into the holes. Staff have reportedly twisted ankles because of the open back. And staff reaction times are said to be compromised because it’s suspected that clogs are more difficult to run in than traditional hospital footwear. The most heinous charge against Crocs and similar shoes is that they act as “isolators,” enabling enough static electricity to be generated to knock out medical equipment—including respirators in maternity wards.

The most concrete sign of a Crocs backlash came earlier this year, when Rapid City Regional Hospital in Rapid City, S.D., instituted a new dress code. Among other requirements, such as no denim or nose piercings, health care workers were banned from wearing the Crocs Beach. “When you deal with a patient who is hemorrhaging blood downward onto your feet, if that patient has HIV or hepatitis, you’ve protected yourself from infection just by having the right kind of shoe on,” said Dr. James Keegan, vice-president of clinical quality, to the media. “You want to provide the best impervious barrier you can.”

Meanwhile, at Blekinge Hospital in Karlskrona, in southern Sweden, it’s being recommended that “Foppatoffels,” as Crocs and similar shoes are known there, be banned after suspicions were raised that they acted as isolators to facilitate static electricity, which caused medical machines to malfunction. Three times, according to reports, equipment including a respirator for premature infants shut down after staff wearing foam clogs were nearby. Technicians there believe the plastic-like material of the shoes can enable up to 25,000 volts of electricity. Medical workers wearing the shoes become “a cloud of lightning,” said Bjorn Lofqvist, a hospital spokesperson. “There have more than likely been more incidents—both here and at other hospitals—where people have not made the connection with Foppatoffels.” In fact, a similar case occurred in a neonatal ward in a Forde, Norway, hospital, where a bili light used to treat newborns with jaundice faulted due to static electricity, reportedly created by the shoes.

Although Crocs Inc. did not return calls to Maclean’s for this article, the company has defended its product in the past by saying that a number of factors contribute to the buildup of static electricity, including temperature, humidity, flooring applications, and the nature of the contact. “We know of no reason that Crocs would be any more susceptible to static electricity than shoes such as sneakers and other types of footwear worn by medical professionals,” reads a statement previously released by the company.

Nor does it makes sense to Sandra, 27, a nurse at the Toronto General Hospital, who wears army-green Crocs with top holes, side vents and a back strap during her 12-hour shifts. “I’m amazed that medical equipment could be affected,” she says. “It’s more believable to me that cellphones would affect equipment—and that’s been shown not to be true.” She does, however, say that when she began wearing Crocs six months ago, she was immediately puzzled by the frequency with which she gave people shocks at work. “Every time I touched a patient I shocked them. No one ever commented. But I would apologize if it was particularly strong,” Sandra remembers.

The policy at Toronto General, she explains, is that shoes worn by medical staff must not be open-toed. But Sandra says that the majority of her co-workers wear the Crocs with holes in them, including doctors in the operating room, where bodily fluids spill with some regularity. “I have spilled water and feed solution and lubricant into my shoes. So I am aware of the possibility that one day it might be blood,” she says. But like most health care workers, Sandra says part of the

appeal of Crocs is that they are easy to clean and sterilize. Even better, “they’re so comfortable. And your foot breathes, which is really enjoyable.”

That’s not reason enough for the Ottawa Hospital to keep Crocs off the revised list of banned shoes it plans on implementing within the next few months. The hospital says it will prohibit medical staff working in clinical areas from wearing footwear with open toes, holes and no heel covering. The goal: to curb the growing incidences of twisted ankles among staff there who wear such shoes.

The Ottawa Hospital is one of the few health facilities in Canada known to have taken an official stance against Crocs and similar shoes. Footwear policies are the jurisdiction of individual employers, so there is no common apparel requirement for medical staff across the country. But more and more people are looking for guidance. “We do get calls from health care workers wondering if they are entitled to wear these shoes and if there are any hazards and guidelines they should know about,” says Renzo Bertolini, manager of inquiries at the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety.

“We advise them to follow their employer’s recommendations. It’s [the hospital’s] responsibility to provide a healthy and safe workplace.”

IN SWEDEN, AN INFANT RESPIRATOR SHUT DOWN WHEN EMPLOYEES WEARING CROCS WERE NEARBY

The owner of a popular medical supplies store in southern Ontario that sells Crocs and other shoes to nurses (who prefers not to be named) suspects that more health care facilities will ban the Beach and Cayman styles once word spreads about possible dangers. In his opinion, “the ban is probably going too far because most shoes pose some risk if you really think about it.”

In addition to the hospital bans, there are other signs of a Crocs backlash. Ihatecrocs blog.blogspot.com has made its mission “eliminating Crocs and those who think that their excuses for wearing them are viable.” A

recent post stresses the impending resurgence of summertime Crocs: “Like cockroaches crawling out from beneath the ruin of the apocalypse, Crocs are back.” Videos on YouTube demonstrate similar disdain for the shoes. And crocsaccidents.blogspot. com “warns parents of the possible dangers of rubber clogs to children,” especially on escalators—the shoes allegedly can melt or get stuck in the side of the stairs. One story out of Singapore describes a toddler’s toe being ripped off in this way.

Still, there are a lot more Crocs fans than dissenters today. Crocs loyalists include celebrities, gardeners and culinary masters such as Iron Chef Mario Batali, who is almost as famous for his fluorescent orange Crocs as he is for food—he reportedly owns 50 pairs of the original Beach model. The company closed 2006 with US$354-7 million in sales, up almost 227 per cent from last year. And all indications suggest market saturation is a long way off. Crocs just launched NASCAR models at Daytona 500. And models inspired by Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, SpongeBob SquarePants and Dora the Explorer are scheduled to be out this summer.

And even if health care facilities ban classic Crocs with the holes and back strap, the clogs will probably still wind up in hospitals. The Ottawa medical supply store owner says nurses are increasingly buying the Endeavor model, which has a closed top. And in May, the Crocs company released three new work shoes—the Batali Bistro, the Specialist and the Specialist Vent. “With the introduction of workplace-geared designs, we are further expanding our footwear offerings to provide functional, high-comfort footwear for the workplace,” said Crocs CEO Ron Snyder. “Crocs footwear’s unique blend of fashion and function makes these new shoe models the perfect workplace footwear solution.” Whether or not that’s a crock depends on who you ask. M