Back in the mid-1900s, 14,000 fatalities, millions of disabilities, and hundreds of thousands of diseases were happening each year due to dangerous working conditions. This resulted in the 1971 creation of a regulatory agency that would not only enforce safety standards at work—but also change working environments for the better: the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).
While job-related fatalities and diseases aren’t completely eliminated, the grisly statistics of the mid-1900s significantly dwindled after the OSH Act was signed into law.
Without a doubt, OSHA continues to play a major role in maintaining safe working conditions in the country. Construction workers and employers, in particular, need to strictly follow OSHA standards to protect employees from the hazards on the job site.
And when it comes to construction safety, there’s one important thing that employees shouldn’t go to work without: personal protective equipment or PPE.
Whether you’re new to construction safety or need a reference for the complete list of PPE in construction, you’ve come to the right place. Read on and find out everything there is to know about construction PPE and high-visibility clothing.
List of PPE in Construction
OSHA isn’t the only agency that helps keep workplaces free of hazards. As a US representative of the International Standards Organization (ISO), the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) helps develop the standards for PPE and its manufacturing process and materials.
Basically, OSHA can sign standards into law, and ANSI aids in creating these standards.
These two organizations’ standards can help you make an informed decision when buying construction PPE. But to make it easier for you, we’ve compiled a list of PPE in construction based on these standards.
1. Head Protection
But what kind of protective helmet should you wear?
ANSI breaks down the types of head protection into two types and three classifications:
- Type I - provides the head with impact protection from falling debris from above.
- Type II - provides the head with impact protection from falling debris from above and flying objects from the sides.
- Class C - designed for impact protection. Class C hard hats typically come with vents to allow airflow.
- Class G - designed for general use. Workers exposed to low-voltage electrical conductors or 2,200-volt electrical hazards should wear this type of hard hat.
- Class E - designed to provide electrical shock protection of up to 20,000 volts. Employees working with high-voltage electrical conductors or in areas filled with electrical hazards should wear Class E hard hats.
For all-day comfort, you should consider getting a lightweight hard hat that features a suspension system, padding, and headband.
If you’re in the market for hard hats, you can check out our list of the best hard hats, which includes a buyers’ guide, features of these hard hats, reviews, and more.
2. Ear Protection
Working on job sites filled with power tools, heavy machinery, and other noisy equipment can cause temporary or even permanent ear damage. That’s why workers who are exposed to continuous or sudden loud noises should wear hearing protection.
OSHA recommends against wearing simple ear protection products, like those made of plain cotton. When choosing an ear protective device, you have to check for an ANSI-certified Noise Reduction Rating (NRR) label. Whether it’s a pair of earplugs or earmuffs, an ear protective device with an NRR label can reduce the noise level by 22 or more decibels.
3. Eye and Face Protection
When employees work with chemical vapors or liquids, biological hazards, dust, flying objects, liquid splashes, extreme temperatures, radiation, or impact, they need to protect their eyes and face from these hazards. Construction workers, in particular, are frequently exposed to dust particles, sparks and chips from welding, and flying or falling debris.
This is where a set of eye and face protective gear comes in handy.
Some of the different types of ear and face protection include:
- Safety goggles - protect the eyes from splashes, vapors, dust particles, and impact. Safety goggles should be tight-fitting and cover the eyes and the skin around the eyes.
- Safety glasses - protect the wearer from flying particles and moderate impact. Safety glasses should be made of shatter-proof and impact-resistant materials.
- Welding shields and helmets - protect the wearer’s eyes and face from radiant energy, chips, and sparks from welding, soldering, cutting, and brazing. Welding shields should come with filter lens shade numbers for radiant energy protection. Welding helmets can be used over safety goggles or glasses.
4. Respiratory Protection
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), almost 2 million employees working in construction are exposed to silica dust. But apart from silica dust, there are other types of harmful dust particles on construction sites, such as lead and wood dust.
One way to combat dust-causing diseases is to wear proper respirators with filters.
Here are the kinds of filter materials that the CDC suggests:
- N-Series filters - can protect workers in areas filled with mineral dust. N-Series filters are not oil-resistant.
- R-Series filters - can be used during an 8-hour shift in areas with oil mists. R-Series filters are oil-resistant.
- P-Series filters - can be used for more than one work shift. P-Series filters are oil-proof.
There are various respirators that you can choose from, such as reusable leak-tight half-masks, filtering facepiece respirators (which have a more lightweight design), and powered air-purifying respirators with built-in fans. You just have to get one that’s both protective and comfortable enough to wear all day long.
5. Foot Protection
Construction employees should never go to work without first wearing construction PPE for the feet. Construction sites abound with tons of foot hazards, such as:
- Falling objects that can be dropped onto the feet
- Crushing loads from heavy machinery and vehicles
- Punctures from sharp objects
- Electrical hazards
- Static electricity
- Explosive chemicals
Some examples of foot PPE in construction include:
- Steel-toed footwear - for impact protection
- Slip-resistant shoes - for slip protection on greasy or wet floors
- Steel-midsole footwear - for puncture protection
- Electrical-hazard rated shoes - for electrical shock protection
- Insulated footwear - for protection against extreme heat and cold situations
6. Hand and Arm Protection
For those working with sharp objects, electrical hazards, radioactive materials, chemicals, vibrating hand tools, extreme weather conditions, and water, wearing hand and arm protective gear is a must.
When choosing a set of hand and arm protective gear, some of the factors that you need to consider are:
- The kinds of chemicals being handled
- The parts that need protection (hands, arms, or/and forearms)
- Thermal protection
- Abrasion resistance
Aside from that, you also have to choose the type of material:
- Leather or canvas gloves - can protect the hands from cuts, burns, and heat
- Coated fabric gloves - offers protection from chafing and abrasions as well as slip resistance when handling construction materials
- Insulated gloves - are typically made of electrical shock-resistant rubber
- Chemical-resistant gloves - are made of chemical-resistant rubber or plastic
High Visibility Clothing
At times, employees on construction sites may be exposed to asbestos or other contaminated dust particles, chemical splashes, and pressure sprays. These situations call for the necessary suits or overalls.
But in this section, we’re going to talk about the most common type of construction PPE that every worker needs to wear: high-visibility clothing.
Also known as hi-viz or hi-vis, high-visibility clothing is designed to keep wearers safe in low-light conditions and warn vehicle or machine operators of the presence of workers. From struck-by hazards to snagging hazards, the dangers of low-visibility environments can be easily mitigated by high-visibility clothing.
ANSI/ISEA 107 classifies high-visibility clothing into three types:
- Type O - refers to off-road workers. Those working in parking areas, warehouses with moving equipment, or oil refineries should wear Type O high-visibility clothing.
- Type R - refers to roadway workers. Employees operating tow trucks, handling airport baggage, working on school crossings, and stationed in toll booths or high-volume parking areas need to wear Type R clothing.
- Type P - refers to public safety personnel. Police officers, firefighters, emergency responders, and site inspectors are some of the workers who need to wear Type P apparel.
High-Visibility Clothing Requirements
The same agency set the standard high-visibility clothing requirements according to performance classes:
- Class 1 High-Visibility Clothing - designed for Type O workers or those working in areas with 25-miles-per-hour traffic or less. Class 1 safety vests should have at least 217-square-inch background material and 1-inch wide, 155-square-inch retroreflective material.
- Class 2 High-Visibility Clothing - designed for Type R and Type P workers in areas with over 25-miles-per-hour traffic. Type R Class 2 vests should have a minimum of 775-square-inch background material and 1.38-inch wide, 201-square-inch retroreflective material. Type P Class 2 vests should have at least a 450-square-inch background material and 2-inch wide, 201-square-inch retroreflective material.
- Class 3 High-Visibility Clothing - designed for Type R and Type P workers in areas with high traffic exceeding 50 miles per hour. These safety vests should have at least a 2-inch wide, 310-square-inch retroreflective material. Type P Class 3 clothing should have a minimum of 1,240-square-inch background material, while Type R Class 3 clothing should have at least a 775-square-inch background material.
If you need to wear Class 3 clothing, you can choose to combine Class E clothing with a Class 2 vest to create a Class 3 ensemble. Some examples of this type of high-visibility clothing are Class E pants, gaiters, and overalls.
High-visibility clothing typically comes in a bright orange or yellow color. But workers wearing Type P can wear different-colored vests for easy identification during emergencies. For instance, firefighters wear red vests, while law enforcement personnel wear blue safety vests.
Again, when choosing a set of construction PPE, it all boils down to comfort. You can choose from a wide range of high-visibility apparel to suit the job site conditions without sacrificing comfort.
Before browsing through these examples, make sure that you understand what high-visibility clothing class or type that your job site requires you to wear.
- High-visibility vests - By far, the most common type of high-visibility clothing, a safety vest is an indispensable part of a hi-viz ensemble. You can wear this on top of your clothes and choose a vest material that’s appropriate for any season. And if you’re a land surveyor, you can easily find a wide range of high-visibility vests that are specially made for surveyors. High-visibility vests typically come in Class 1 and 2 designs and come with several pockets for tools and field supplies.
- High-visibility shirts - All Class 3 safety vests are high-visibility shirts, but not all high-visibility shirts are Class 3 vests. You can wear a Class 3 high-visibility shirt if the job calls for it or a Class 2 shirt if you don’t want to wear a vest over your clothes.
- High-visibility jackets or high-visibility rain gear - These garments can also be worn as Class 3 clothing. They’re perfect for extreme cold weather or inclement weather conditions.
- High-visibility hats - For extra comfort in any weather and increased visibility, you can opt to wear high-visibility baseball caps, fleece caps, beanies, and safari hats.
- High-visibility pants - As was mentioned before, you can create a Class 3 ensemble by wearing a Class 2 vest and a pair of Class E pants. Most of these pants are made to fit comfortably over boots and feature pockets and hooks.
- High-visibility accessories - From high-visibility sun shields to bandanas and cooling shoulder inserts, there are a variety of accessories you can wear with your high-visibility clothing ensemble for added comfort in any weather and extra visibility as well.
- Flame-resistant clothing or FR high-visibility clothing - Some high-visibility garments come with arc ratings—ideal for electricians, machinists, and other workers who are exposed to electrical hazards. Arc-rated shirts, vests, jackets, and other FR high-visibility clothing can help protect wearers from arc flashes or electrical explosions and reduce their burn injuries.
Buying Construction PPE and High-Visibility Clothing
OSHA requires employers to be responsible for the proper wearing of construction PPE on job sites.
So before you buy your construction PPE and high-visibility clothing, you have to make sure that your company completely understands OSHA’s legal framework and has an OSH policy statement in place. That way, you’ll have an easier time choosing which types of construction PPE and high-visibility clothing you need to wear on the job.
You can learn more about promoting occupational safety in this article.
Another thing you have to consider is comfort—an often overlooked factor in choosing construction PPE and high-visibility clothing. Sure, you have a complete set of PPE ready to be worn. But if it isn’t comfortably fitting, you might as well not wear it at all. Loose or tight clothing or just plain uncomfortable garments can be as dangerous as not wearing PPE.
Most importantly, you need to ensure that the construction PPE and high-visibility clothing you’re planning to get have gone through official ANSI testing. Like uncomfortable clothing, fake PPE can be dangerous. Fake hard hats can break under impact and leave your head unprotected, and fake high-visibility clothing might not protect you from oncoming vehicles.
Here on Engineer Warehouse, we guarantee that our construction PPE and high-visibility clothing collections are from well-established brands and meet ANSI and OSHA standards. Find ANSI vests, shirts, Class E pants, and more made by ML Kishigo and Safety Apparel and keep yourself safe on the job at all times—all without sacrificing comfort.