Personal Protective Equipment is designed to be a last resort when all other safety measures have been put in place. All PPE provides some level of protection, and some is required by law whilst others just provide additional protection. So what PPE do you need to work on a construction site safely?

There are many questions to consider before beginning work on a building site. For example, do you need to wear a hard hat or a bump cap or can you choose to wear none at all? Do you have to wear specific safety boots, or can you wear what you choose... Riggers perhaps? What about eye protection, hand protection, hearing protection or body protection? Do you need to wear Hi-Visibility clothing or is that a personal choice?

The Types Of PPE Needed On A Building Site

 The Health and Safety Executive only outlines four mandatory, legally-required protections for a construction site. Provisions must be made for:

  • Head protection
  • Foot protection
  • Hi-Visibility Clothing
  • Body protection
No Hard Hat, No Safety Footwear, No Hi Vis Vest, NO WORK!

However, it is always best to provide more protection than is needed, so if your site poses a high-risk of cuts to the hands or arms, make sure you provide cut-resistant safety gloves.

If there will be flying debris, or your workers labour outside in sunny conditions, be sure to provide eye protection with built in sun-protection too. The same goes for the fabric of the clothing - some clothing provides UV protection whilst others does not.

If you want to keep your workers safe on the basic, legal level, here is what you need to know. It is recommended you do more than just the basics though. Workplace accidents can cost you time & money and worker's their ability to work, their mobility, or even their lives.

Head Protection

Head protection is required by law on all construction sites where there is a risk of head injury. All construction work should be assessed to minimise the risks. For example using toe boards on scaffolding or brick guards when necessary to prevent objects from falling to the ground.

If you have put all the safeguards in place to minimise risk, but there is still a risk of injury, you should make sure all workers are provided with head protection that complies with PPE Regulation 1992 the updated PPE Regulations which mandates head protection in construction.

Head protection should be in good condition, undamaged, fit the person wearing it properly and be supplied by a reputable supplier (there are fake hard hats out there so use a BSiF Registered Safety Supplier such as Xamax).

To ensure your workers wear head protection, make it a site rule, always wear your hard hat on site, and check people wear theirs.

The only exception to the hard hat rule is for Sikhs who wear turbans. They do not have a legal requirement to wear a hard hat on a construction site, but you may want to impress upon any visitors or workers the dangers of not wearing a hard hat.

Safety Boots

Protective safety footwear is required on construction sites to protect the delicate foot bones and tendons during heavy work. Steel toecaps protect against dropped objects; mid-sole protection protects against punctures or penetration such as treading on a nail.

Workers do not need to pay for their own safety footwear; basic safety footwear should be provided by the employer as long as you make it last a reasonable time (boots should be replaced every 6-12 months usually except in exceptional weather conditions). Any PPE needs to have a ‘CE’ mark to comply with PPE 2002/2016 regulations.

Some ask if rigger boots can be worn on a construction site - the appeal is that they are like lace-up boots and wellies in one. But some construction companies have found wearers are likely to suffer from a twisted or sprained ankle because rigger boots offer no support to the rolling action of an ankle.

Some contractors do not allow them on site at all, but it is up to your specific site; however, it is best to wear a safety boot that is fit for purpose. It is recommended to find a safe, comfortable boot that is made for the building site and fulfils all the safety ratings you may need on a construction job.

If your site has asbestos, lace up boots are prohibited. A Chukka style or a rigger boot may be appropriate here.

For workers pouring cement, wellington boots provide the most protection against cement burns as cement can get into safety shoes or boots. A pair of safety wellingtons would be appropriate, so long as you match the safety ratings against the footwear.

Hi Vis Clothing

Hi Vis vests are required when your construction site has a Hi Vis policy, which it almost certainly has.

Safety rules on site will likely have been set by the construction firm, but workers tend to be contractors, sub-contractors or even self-employed. So it would not be the construction firm's responsibility to provide Hi-Vis. The responsibility would fall on whoever pays your wages, if you are self-employed, that is you.

A Hi Vis vest might not be the only form of Hi-Visibility clothing you can wear to comply - modern fabric technology has created Hi Vis EVERYTHING. High Visibility Hoodies are becoming very popular amongst grafters, but check with your site manager that they allow them.

If your site is located near vehicles or has vehicles moving around site then you must wear Hi-Vis, even drivers need to wear it when leaving their vehicle. A hi-vis polo or fleece would work well

Often a simple Hi Vis vest is sufficient to provide safety. However, for temporary traffic management, full Hi Vis (trousers and long-sleeved jacket/polo) is recommended. This will provide higher visibility to drivers from a greater distance.

Body Protection

All clothing on a construction site must protect the wearer from on-site hazards. Some ask if those on a construction site can wear workwear shorts - the answer depends on the owners or managers of each building site - however, a good pair of work trousers protect the lower leg from cuts, grazes, splinters, skin damage, and infection.

Kneepads are also an absolute godsend if you are on your knees, so it is best to find a pair of action, holster, or cargo trousers with slots for some kneepads.

For summer weather, it is important to protect from the sun because overexposure can cause sunburn and increase the risk of skin cancer.

In cold weather, long trousers can keep the wearer warm and help protect against cold stress injuries.

Other PPE Considerations

The four types of PPE are generally what a worker needs to be wearing in order to be allowed onto site in the first place, but there are other things you must consider.

Other forms of PPE may be required for each specific task you are doing. For instance:

And don't forget that it is not only YOUR job you need to consider. Ear defenders should be worn if you are working near the bloke on the pneumatic drill or Stihl Saw. Eye protection and Ear protection if you are working near the fabricator/welder.

There are hazards everywhere on a construction site, decrease your own risk factor by wearing all the PPE required.