Stringent regulations cover the safety workwear and PPE (Personal Protection Equipment) demanded by the health and safety hazards characteristic of a building site. Beyond legal obligations, there’s a responsibility to protect the well-being of your team and ensure that no delays develop through preventable work-related injury.
It’s a hefty burden, and one not to be taken lightly.
The good news? A whole world of safety workwear covers every possible requirement.
The bad news? Navigating that world can be tricky.
A comprehensive guide to building site workwear is an indispensable part of your industry knowledge. Drawing together a detailed overview of everything you need to know, I’ll guide you through:
- the type of equipment you need
- who should wear it
- and what brands and manufacturers you should place your trust in.
Know what you’re after? Quickly jump to the section you need below.
Safety Workwear by Type
Even the most meticulously structured building site presents health and safety hazards – nothing minimises risks down to zero. With that in mind, workwear should be considered both the final line of defence against injury and the most vital.
Effective safety begins with understanding the categories of protection available, both in broad and narrow terms, so let’s dive into the common classifications, the benefits each one provides, and how you can leverage them to work around diverse requirements.
It’s almost inconceivable for a construction site to pose no danger of head injury, whether from falling objects, bumps against low-hanging obstructions, or hazardous materials flying upwards. All workers at risk of such injury should be provided with a helmet that complies with EN standards. EN397 helmets are required for industrial environments.
Safety helmets should:
- Resist penetration
- Absorb shock
- Be water resistant
- Be slow burning
Should a helmet encounter severe impact, become deeply scratched, or sprayed with either chemicals or solvent-based paint, it needs to be replaced. If the fit is wrong – from loose chin straps to improper grip around the head – it must be adjusted. Finally, helmets must not interfere with the donning of other PPE, such as eye and ear protectors.
Any self-employed worker is legally obliged to provide their own helmet, and all site visitors should wear head protection in the face of a foreseeable risk of head injury. Only turban-wearing Sikhs are legally exempt.
A wide range of helmets cover every conceivable need, so you should strongly consider individual requirements. A reduced peak, for example, is advantageous when workers must look up while climbing a ladder or providing direction to those working above them. Arco produce a strong selection, including helmets boasting venting, visors, and reduced peaks.
Flying particles, sparks, bright light, and splashed liquids can all cause damage to the eyes, as can hazardous fumes and heat. Fortunately, a diverse array of PPE eyewear is available.
Both the frames and lenses must feature the CE symbol and manufacturer’s logo to certify an adherence to EU requirements. All safety frames must pass the European EN166 standard, while lenses can meet various safety standards depending on their intended use.
Several factors will play into that intended use, including:
- Lens shading to dictate light transmission
- The strength of the lens to withstand impact.
- Shape or design of the frame to protect against splashes, provide a complete seal, or screen the entire face.
- UV Protection level to guard against glare damage.
Anti-scratch and anti-mist lenses are recommended, and eye protection must interact properly with other PPE, such as helmets and respirators, as well as a worker’s personal prescription lenses.
Bollé set a high standard, offering several lightweight options for optimal comfort. Dickies, Arco, Silverline and other popular manufacturers also provide a more than worthy selection.
Facing a daily or weekly average exposure of 85 decibels poses a risk of hearing loss. Workers must be provided with proper protection, with a maximum exposure limit value of 87 decibels when equipment is worn.
Protection can be provided against constant low-level sound, such as you might experience while working near heavy machinery, or sharp impact noise, such as you might encounter while using a hammer. Workers must be provided with a selection of protection options, with options generally breaking down into over-ear protectors and in-ear plugs.
For general use, Arco’s range of simple Ear Defenders is a good option, though more sophisticated items, such as the Sensear Smart Group, can be picked up if you need two-way radio and further niche features. In-ear plugs must be made specifically for use in construction – Arco provides a handy dispenser to help prevent unhygienic reuse. Several products fit around the wearing of other PPE – 3M’s PELTOR ProTac III ear defenders, for example, are helmet mounted.
Face masks prevent the inhalation of hazardous substances and airborne debris. Dust, mists, gases, and fumes must be filtered, and workers require face masks in areas where oxygen levels are low. If you’re working in a confined space, around chemicals and sprays, or handling a dusty powder, face masks should be provided.
You’ll need to make certain that each one suits the specific wearer, task, and environment to ensure that no additional risks are created. You shouldn’t use the same mask utilised for working in a dusty environment as you would for working around hazardous chemicals. Precise face mask configurations exist for a reason.
An extensive and diverse range of face masks is available. Simple fold-flat dust masks are ideal for most workers. However, exposure to certain hazardous substances will require a sealed full-face respirator; Scott Safety and 3M supply a wide-ranging selection.
Made from durable material that is resistant to abrasion and typically fully-waterproof, protection clothing guards against everything from adverse weather conditions to chemical splashes.
If workers will be facing temperature extremes, hazardous splashes, potential impact and abrasion, electrostatic build-up, or slick surfaces, safety clothing must be provided. Of course, such clothing also protects against the excessive wear of personal clothing, and it offers no means of entanglement or catching while navigating confined areas.
Overalls and boiler suits are useful for providing light protection, while tougher trousers and jackets should be worn under more extreme conditions. Gloves, armlets, wrist cuffs, mitts, and gauntlets should be used to protect the hands, while specialist clothing, such as chain mail aprons, may be required for certain tasks.
As ever, a proper fit is required, and you shouldn’t adapt the use of one type of protective clothing across diverse tasks.
Workers exposed to reduced visibility must be provided with high-vis clothing.
Whether due to low natural light, adverse weather conditions, or working in enclosed or semi-enclosed environments, visibility can be affected to the point where accidents become likely.
All high-vis clothing must be BS EN 471 standard, as well as CE marked. As a general rule, darker conditions require more conspicuous materials, and you should also select between different levels of retroreflection performance. Both factors run from Class 1 to Class 3. When minimum protection and visibility is required, a high-vis waistcoat is ideal, but many workers will require full-length high-vis clothing to ensure complete protection, especially when working around larger vehicles or in near-dark conditions.
Safety footwear can protect the foot, increase traction, or perform both tasks at once. Workers facing treacherous footing or environments where trauma against the foot is likely are required to don protective footwear.
Construction workers often face loose, uneven, or slick terrain, so slip resistant footwear is critical, and that slip resistance should adhere to EN ISO safety standards. The type of slip-resistance required will differ according to the surface, so you must select the right type and resist the urge to use the same footwear across varying conditions.
Additionally, safety footwear should be of solid construction to protect the foot against impact from dropped items or accidental strikes against obstructions. Look for steel-toes and penetration-proof soles.
Safety Workwear by Job
A building site makes a helmet and durable workwear essential, but separate roles tend to demand their own special equipment. It’s important to note that rules are never hard and fast, but each common job can be allotted its own general equipment. Time to learn how the duties of each workperson on your site line up with your responsibility to provide proper safety workwear.
Groundworkers carry out initial site work, from creating access routes to constructing drainage systems. High-visibility jackets, fully waterproof steel-toed boots, thick, insulated gloves, and hard-wearing safety clothing are all vital when working in such exposed conditions.
Generally tasked with fitting, inspecting, maintaining, and repairing electrical systems, electricians often work in confined spaces and will regularly handle systems the pose a severe risk of electrical shock. As such, proper safety equipment is vital.
Electricians should be equipped with rubber insulating gloves, with liner gloves used inside to diminish discomfort and leather protective gloves optionally worn over the top to protect against cuts, scratches, and punctures. Gloves should fit well and maintain flexibility to allow for dexterous handling of smaller items.
Arc rated jackets, trousers, and visors should be used to protect against possible electric arc explosions, which can create intense heat and pressure, and fire retardant clothing should be used at all times.
Plumbers work with hazardous and unpleasant substances, are frequently required to access confined areas, and are often involved in construction, so they require a wide range of safety equipment.
Full overalls or protective clothing is required, with minimal points that can be caught by obstructions and a durable surface that will resist cuts and abrasions. When working with possible electrical currents, non-conductive clothing should be worn. The eyes should also be protected from sparks, drips, and dust, and leather or latex gloves are a necessity to guard against any injury to the hands or contact with hazardous or unpleasant materials. Plumbers may also come into contact with harsh chemicals or sewer gases; the unpleasant and unhygienic nature of such conditions requires the use of an enclosed mask with filter. Finally, plumbers often work in relatively loud environments; protective earwear will be required when sound levels reach 85 decibels or more.
Whether applying different kinds of plaster to walls and ceilings or overseeing the construction of framework, plasterers require appropriate safety work wear. Such professionals are at an increased risk of developing respiratory problems, including rhinitis, through breathing in dust, so proper face masks are essential; if chemicals are being used, a full-face mask with filter is necessary. Dust, as well as dripping plaster, can invade the eyes, so goggles or protective glasses are needed, and a hard hat should be used at all times.
Plasterers can also be exposed to chemicals through skin contact, so full-body coverings are recommended, as are thick gloves to prevent injuring or irritating the hands.
Cutting stone, concrete, and tiles can put masons at risk of several serious health problems. As their work predominantly involves shaping such materials, face masks and fully-enclosed protective eyewear should be provided, with full-face masks required when heavy clouds of dust are expected.
Masons will work with their hands, whether using power tools, mixing concrete, or lifting and handling heavy items. They may also encounter harsh chemicals. As such, strong protective gloves are required, and protective footwear should be worn at all times. Masons will almost certainly work in areas that experience 85 decibels or more of sound, so ear protectors will also be required. With eye protection, ear protection, face mask, and helmet all possibly needing to be worn at once, masons often benefit from more expensive combination safety wear.
Anyone working extensively with wood needs to protect both their eyes and their ears. On-site carpentry involves lots of cutting and shaping, so safety glasses should be used to prevent sawdust invading the eyes, and proper hearing protectors must guard against the constant noise created by power tools. You should also use a face mask to filter sawdust from the air you breathe, and working with a lathe, which generates plenty of flying chips, should demand the use of a full-face shield.
Clothing does not need to be particularly hardwearing, but it must be close-fitting to avoid becoming trapped in machinery.
Labourers typically fill a variety of roles across a construction project. With such varying duties to perform, labourers will characteristically require a full complement of safety workwear, including ear protectors, eye protectors, hard hats, face masks, protective clothing, and protective footwear. Protective clothing and footwear should be worn at all times to ensure adaptability, but the main thing to keep in mind with labourers is that identical safety wear shouldn’t be used across all tasks. For example, heavy-duty rubber gloves should be used when working with concrete, while insulated gloves and sleeves should be used when working around electrical systems.
Decorators add those all-important final touches, but they require adequate protection regardless of how complete the project. Safety glasses are recommended to prevent paint flecks entering the eye, and safety gloves should be used while working with any abrasive chemicals or sanding down rough surfaces. Since decorators may be working around ongoing construction work, hard-wearing steel-toed boots are recommended.
Working around intense heat, light, and noise, welders require an extensive range of protective equipment to keep themselves safe from harm. Full-face shields are essential, and they must be made specifically for welders to effectively filter out light and protect against sparks. Fumes may be created during certain work, so respirators will be needed. All clothing must be tight-fitting and flame-retardant, and heavy-duty gloves should be worn at all times. Where sound levels reach a daily or weekly average exposure of 85 decibels, ear protectors should also be worn.
Additionally, welding curtains should be hung to protect the eyes of passers-by from the welding arc light.
Heavy Equipment Operator
Heavy equipment operators are tasked with handling large machinery and vehicles, including bulldozers, loaders, forklifts, excavators, cranes, mixers, and heavy haul trucks.
Since heavy equipment operators often spend plenty of time sitting, warmer clothing is required. Clothing should be high-vis since operators will be working near larger vehicles. Steel-toed boots should be worn to protect the feet while entering and exiting the vehicle, and tight-fitting padded gloves should be worn to prevent any soreness in the hands. Most heavy equipment is extremely loud, so ear protectors should be provided; since communication lines need to stay open, heavy equipment operators can benefit from ear protectors with inbuilt two-way radio.
As an individual tasked with overseeing both the operation of an entire project and the welfare of all workers, a site manager must set a supreme safety workwear example. Heavy-duty protective clothing will rarely be required, but site managers should always wear high-vis clothing to ensure they can be picked out as they move across the site. Additionally, site managers should protect themselves against any and all hazards, even if they will only encounter them for short periods. Ear, protectors, eye protectors, and face masks should be available at all times and worn whenever appropriate.
Safety Workwear by Brand
By this stage, you should appreciate the safety workwear commonly demanded by each role and the basic varieties of each type available, but it also pays to understand areas of specialisation among individual brands. Let’s finish with a quick overview of the products you can expect from some of the industry’s most well-known names.
The Caterpillar brand, also known as CAT Workwear, has extended to cover casual footwear, but their working shoes and boots remain some of the most popular around. Even while enjoying cool industrial styling, Caterpillar footwear is rugged and dependable, with plenty of options to choose from to suit differing conditions. Products like the Moor Safety Trainer and Electric Safety Boot deliver outstanding heat resistance and steel toes, while tougher models like the Spiro Honey Safety Boot boast anti-static, oil repellent, chemical resistant, and acid resistant construction.
JCB is known for providing dependable stylish workwear, manufactured from the highest quality fabrics, that transfers easily from the workplace to the world outside. All JCB safety footwear has dual density soles for maximum comfort, some feature water resistant uppers and waterproof and breathable lining for extra protection in adverse weather conditions.
Dr Martens footwear is well-known for its iconic black leather/yellow stitching design style, and their products have become landmarks of British style. Beyond fashion, Doc Martens also cater to construction professionals with a diverse range of industrial boots. Noted for their comfort, these boots also provide everything from electrical insulation to steel-toed construction. Several longer boots, such as the pull-on Howk Rigger, blend waterproofing with heavy-duty protection and traditional styling, plus an air-cushioned sole resistant to oil, fat, petrol, and alkali.
Like Caterpillar and Dr Martins, Timberland has become known predominantly for casual boots, yet they maintain an excellent reputation for safety workwear. The Pro Safety Work Boot, with a non-metallic protective toe cap for thermal insulation, ankle padding for comfort, penetration resistant steel middle, and anti-static sole, is a perennial favourite. Beyond footwear, Timberland produces some fine light-duty work clothing, including hard wearing work trousers with kneepad slots, reinforced pockets, and durable construction making them perfect as floor-layers. Waterproofs and insulated body warmers are also available.
Dating back to 1922, Dickies delivers an exhaustive array of safety workwear and PPE. From high-vis jackets to respiratory face masks to heavy duty work boots, Dickies can be counted upon to provide a solid foundation for all safety needs. If you need more specialised or sophisticated equipment, niche brands can work around specific demands. For example, Dickies’ ear defenders are cost-effective and tailor-made for general needs, but a Peltor model, while more expensive, will deliver higher decibel protection and advanced communications hardware.
One of the newer brands, Scruffs have been producing safety workwear since 2003, with an emphasis on uniting style, performance, and practicality. Covering protective clothing and footwear, Scruffs provide a wide range of safety boots and shoes under a variety of ratings, plus hardwearing trousers, tops, shorts, base layers, jackets, and waterproofs. A range of cost-effective safety glasses and hats is also available.
Silverline are a company comparable to Dickies, with a wide-ranging inventory of safety workwear covering most key areas instead of one narrower segment. Clothing, eye protection, ear protection, high-vis wear, and helmets are all available, plus a strong selection of restraint kits to guard against falls. For larger orders of common safety workwear, Silverline is an excellent place to start.
Accommodating the needs of extreme sports athletes and Olympians as well as construction and industrial workers, Bollé is a world-leader when it comes to protective eyewear. Goggles, glasses, and face shields are top of the line, with numerous options and superior visibility a hallmark of the brand. Glasses, such as the Baxter range, combine lightweight materials with premium comfort enhancements, while ultra-enveloping face shields provide an exceptional range of vision. With this in mind, Bollé should be your first port of call for eye protection that can be worn all day without discomfort.
Worker safety across a building site isn’t possible without a penetrating and extensive knowledge of safety workwear regulations, which is exactly what you’ve just developed.