The Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) recommends Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) in construction for your eyes and face, feet, head, hands, and hearing. Different trades will require PPE beyond the basics, such as heat-safe shields and gloves for welding, harness gear for fall protection when working at heights, or specialty respirator filters to prevent exposure to chemicals.
Whether you are working in a niche trade or doing general construction, all construction workers should always have these PPE basics on hand—you’re never going to regret wearing it.
The potential hazards on a construction site are vast and will vary depending on the job type. This isn’t meant to alarm you—the more you know about hazards, the better you can prepare. Most often the solution is simple. The right clothing like safety glasses, boots, a hard hat, and a few different types of gloves and respirator filters will help keep you safe from hazards. Here are some of the most common hazards on construction sites and the PPE that can help protect you from them:
One of the most common issues that can prevent you from wearing your safety gear is poorly fitting or uncomfortable gear. When you shop, try everything on to make sure you can move around comfortably and that each piece of gear is properly fitting. Your gear should fit relatively snugly so that you have greater dexterity and to avoid it from catching on objects.
Safety glasses are absolutely essential for any builder doing any type of work—and regular glasses or sunglasses are not going to cut it. Make sure your safety glasses have a z87 marking on the inside arms—that shows that they're rated to stop airborne objects. Note: Safety glasses also come tinted for when you are doing work where you need a little tint but do not need a full face shield.
If you wear prescription glasses, you have three options for your eye protection:
The two main types of hearing protection are ear plugs and ear muffs. To ensure that your ear plugs are inserted correctly, reach around your head with the hand opposite your ear and pull your ear back while you insert. This will help the plug settle in deeper and you will get the actual protection rating the plugs are designed to give you.
Wear a hard hat when you are working on any site with the potential for falling objects or fixed objects that you could run into at head level. Those doing steel work, framing, or heavy fabrication or construction should wear a hard hat every single day. If you’re working in trim carpentry, you’re not going to need to wear one every day, but you should have one on hand for times when other teams on site will be moving things overhead in your work area.
Note: If you notice any cracks or dents, or if you take a hard hit on your hard hat, replace it—even if you don’t see any visible damage.
Professional builder Jordan Smith recommends having “a glove for every occasion.” You might not need to wear gloves everyday, but it’s good to be prepared for any type of construction work you may be doing on any given day. Here are some of the most common “occasions” and their suitable glove type:
Another crucial piece of safety equipment to have on hand is a respirator. An N95 mask keeps out dust and other particulates, which is good enough for demolition. But when you are using adhesives, spray foams, or working with any product high in volatile organic compounds, you will need to wear a respirator. Always read the product to learn the correct filter cartridge and buy a respirator where you can swap out different filters.
N95 respirators have the added benefit of protecting you from COVID-19 and other airborne viruses on the job site.
The best thing you can do for your safety is be consistent with wearing your PPE, every single time. Also, if you are doing a task you’ve never done before, ask your foreman what ppe you will need and refer to the complete OSHA guide for more information on occupational safety.
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