Safety has always been an important issue in construction. Let’s face it; this is not an office job. The more prepared Laborers are, the less chance they will encounter accidents and injuries. Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), the focus of this series, is a key part of that preparation.

Employers are required, whenever possible, to reduce or eliminate exposure to hazards through engineering or administrative controls before resorting to personal protection. When such controls are practically or economically infeasible, PPE must be issued.

“The purpose of protective clothing is to prevent harm to the body from potential exposures associated with work,” says Noel C. Borck, Management Co-Chairman of The Laborers’ Health and Safety Fund of North America (LHSFNA). “When a worker’s environment presents the potential for a hazardous situation, it is the employer’s responsibility to provide adequate PPE.”

Protective suits

Protective suits, commonly called Tyvek suits, are the industry standard for protecting workers in all sorts of hazardous working conditions.

Tyvek is a brand of spunbonded polyolefin, a synthetic material made of high-density polyethylene fibers. The material is very strong; is difficult to tear but can be easily cut with scissors or any other sharp object. This is a lightweight, breathable material, which allows the body’s perspiration to pass through as water vapor, making it useful in a variety of situations, including:

  • Painting, spray painting
  • General maintenance
  • Lead or asbestos abatement
  • Mold remediation
  • Dry chemical applications
  • Radioactive dust
  • Abrasive blasting
  • Environmental clean-up
  • Mining
  • Construction

Protective suits come in different styles: coveralls, smocks and aprons.

High-visibility clothing

On job sites, one fundamental protection is being highly visible. This is achieved with brightly colored safety vests in the day and retro-reflective vests at night. A number of manufacturers also now make shirts and sweatshirts that also meet ANSI requirements (see below) and are comfortable to wear. These vests or shirts are critical in road work and flagging situations and even more vital during night operations. 

Safety clothing for road work comes in three separate classes of garments:

Class I garments are for use in activities that permit the wearer’s full and undivided attention to approaching traffic. They are vests with reflective bands around the torso. These are appropriate for situation where there is ample separation of the worker from traffic, which should be traveling no faster than 25 miles per hour.

Class II garments are intended for activities where greater visibility is necessary during inclement weather conditions or in work environments with risks that exceed those for class I. In addition to torso bands, these vests have reflective bands that rise across each shoulder. Garments in this class are for workers who perform tasks that divert their attention from approaching traffic or that put them in close proximity to passing vehicles traveling at 25 miles per hour or more.

Class III garments provide the highest level of visibility. These garments are full body suits with reflective bands around the torso, the legs and the arms. Class III is for workers who face serious hazards and often have high task loads that require attention away from their work. During night hours of operation, class III garments should always be worn. Flaggers, according to the Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD), must wear safety apparel meeting requirements of the International Safety Equipment Association (ISEA) and the American National Standards Institute (ANSI 107-1999).

Leg protection

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires employers to conduct a hazard assessment of their workplaces to determine what dangers are present (29 CFR 1926.95-106). Employees must wear protective leg gear when they are subject to possible injury from: falling objects, nails/spikes, slippery surfaces, exposure to corrosive materials or electrical hazards.

Leggings protect the lower legs from heat hazards such as molten metal or welding sparks. They come with safety snaps for quick, easy removal.

Shin guards protect the lower legs as well and may be used when greater protection is needed.

LHSFNA Resources

For more information on protective clothing and PPE, please visit our website at or contact the Fund’s Occupational Safety and Health Division at 202-628-5465.

All publications are available through the Fund’s online catalogue.