You might not think of construction workers as fashion conscious, but they do put thought into their wardrobes. Construction attire needs to be comfortable, flexible, durable, functional, and safe. This post will examine some of the most critical elements of the quintessential construction site outfit.
What Do Construction Workers Wear?
Construction workers might not spend a ton of time picking out trendy accessories or designing their look for the day in the morning, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t stringent standards to uphold. In addition to staying warm, comfortable, and dry, they may also have to comply with specific safety regulations mandated by OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration), their particular company, or job site.
Here is a list of essential items that make up construction site attire:
- Hard hats
- Sunglasses or safety glasses
- Earplugs or muffs
- UPF shirts
- ANSI vests
- Work jacket
- Work pants
- Tool belts
- Work Boots
Body and Skin Protection
Construction is a dangerous job. According to the U.S. Census of Occupational Injuries, more than a thousand workers died in 2020, making construction the fourth-highest fatal injury rate among all industries. And certain types of construction are more hazardous than others– like roofing, demolition, sewer and ductwork, and freight hauling.
Specific causes of death common to construction sites are falls, electrocution, exposure to toxic substances, transportation accidents, and incidents with heavy machinery. In particular, OSHA has narrowed down the “Fatal Four“:
- Struck by
- Caught In Between
These four types of accidents account for 60% of construction deaths and over 30% of all workplace fatalities. Given the risks, workers should do everything possible to protect themselves on the job, which means using appropriate PPE. Here are some essential items and the areas of the body they protect:
- Hard hat or helmet, a rigid protective head covering to guard against falling objects, impacts, spills, sun, and other hazards
- Safety glasses, goggles, or a face shield made of impact-resistant material to protect the eyes from debris, piercing objects, and chemical splashes
- Earplugs or muffs such as foam plugs or snug-fitting earphones to block the sound from heavy machinery and other construction-related noise
- Work boots, heavy-duty, protective footwear with good tread to protect feet from accidents
If there is one area of your body that is most important to protect, it’s the head. With that said, different situations, occupations, and job sites may call for different types of headwear. For example, workers in extreme heat may benefit from vented hard hats with a full sun brim, while night workers should use hard hats with reflective materials.
Likewise, the level of protection needed for supervisors spending more time in an office setting will be different than for workers who are on the ground all day.
The biggest thing to keep in mind is the difference between hard hats and safety helmets. Hard hats are the traditional emblem of construction work that even visitors must wear on sites.
But in recent years, the industry has shifted to favor safety helmets, presumably because of their increased protection; they fit more snugly and have added safety elements, like padding and a chin strap to prevent the helmet from falling or getting knocked off.
- A hard hat is a head covering made from plastic, fiberglass, or polyethylene. Look for ones that are ANSI-approved.
- A safety Helmet is a head covering that fits more closely to the head and can offer increased protection against impacts on the top, sides, and back of the head.
- A hard hat liner is an insert or head cloths that can improve the fit of a hard hat or helmet to maximize comfort in different conditions.
Eye and Ear Protection
Eyes and ears are vulnerable to the many hazards present on construction sites. The type of PPE used may vary depending on the circumstances. After all, an equipment operator will not have the same considerations as someone grinding metal. One crucial distinction is safety glasses vs. safety goggles.
While safety glasses generally do an excellent job guarding against debris and projectiles, they do not provide the full wraparound coverage of goggles secured with a strap. As a result, goggles are best in conditions that involve hazardous chemicals, dusty conditions – and any time sparks are flying.
The face shields we have seen more commonly throughout the covid pandemic are another excellent choice offering maximum protection.
- Safety glasses are protective eyewear with impact-resistant lenses.
- Safety goggles are protective eyewear that wraps snugly around the face to provide full 360-coverage.
- A face shield is typically made of acetate or polycarbonate sheets with an elastic strap and offers the most comprehensive coverage. Look for ones that are light, scratch-resistant, easy to clean, and thick enough to be durable.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, one million construction workers visit the ER each year due to hand injuries. Of those, 70% were not wearing gloves, while the other 30% were wearing inadequate or ill-fitting gloves. Hand injuries, second to back strain, are the top reasons construction workers miss work.
Don’t become a statistic; use the appropriate type of hand protection for whatever function you may be performing. And no matter what kind of gloves they are, make sure they fit correctly.
- Fabric gloves are made of cotton or other soft materials and offer minimal protection against minor scrapes and cold weather.
- Rubber, plastic, or chemical-resistant gloves protect against oil, solvents, and chemicals.
- Kevlar gloves are abrasion-resistant gloves that guard against cuts and accidents.
- Leather gloves are the most versatile choice for general construction and protect against cuts and heat (from welding etc.)
- Anti-vibration gloves are designed to reduce the impact of prolonged exposure to vibration from things like tools that can cause injuries to the hands, wrists, and arms.
Leg protection starts with a good, sturdy pair of work pants. Shorts and flimsy garments do not constitute construction safety workwear.
But there’s more to it than that. For example, specialized PPE may be a good call for specific jobs, given the alarming range of dangers construction workers are exposed to, like nail guns, molten metal, electrical hazards, corrosive chemicals, and falling objects.
- Work pants: Look for sturdy, flexible pants that resist tears while allowing for movement. Heavy cotton canvas is standard, though it can be hot in summer. Cotton with a touch of spandex might be more comfortable for some. Pockets and tool loops, reinforced knees, and gusseted crotch are other features to consider.
- Knee pads are helpful for roofers and others whose job requires them to kneel a lot. Look for hard-shell designs if you will be working on hard surfaces like rooftops or concrete soft-shell designs if you will be working on interiors.
- Leggings fit over the pants to protect the lower legs against sparks, chemical splashes, etc.
Think about it: if your foot gets injured and you can’t walk, how can you continue on your job? Wearing the right shoes and PPE is critical. But, again, different types of projects require distinct safety wear for construction workers.
While a roofer might do best wearing lightweight sneakers with good tread, structural iron-workers need steel toes and maybe even absorption of electric shock and protection from slips and falls.
- Safety-toe boots are also called steel-toe boots and offer built-in protection from impact.
- Metatarsal and toe guards are made from metal, fiber, or plastic and fit overshoes to protect the top of the foot and toes (respectively) from crushing objects.
What Do Construction Managers Wear?
For those alternating between the job site and the office, a different type of construction worker attire is needed. A versatile, practical general contractor outfit might feature khakis or chinos, polos or button-down shirts, a nice pair of boots, and a few tasteful accessories such as a leather belt and watch. Essentially, proper attire in this role must look nice enough for meetings yet still be rugged enough to withstand field conditions.
While construction workers on the ground can wear jeans, cargo pants, or hoodies, supervisors shy away from these choices in favor of something a bit more elegant. A slim-fitting jacket would add warmth, while jeans, if allowed by the construction office dress code, would have to present a slightly more formal, more urban look.
Good color choices are brown, gray, tan, and navy blue, as black can be too hot and white can get too dirty. Some may choose to incorporate more colorful looks into their polo shirts or flannels. Everything, including footwear, should be easily cleaned or laundered.
- Khakis or chinos should fit well (not too baggy) and be wrinkle-free.
- Button-down shirts might be heavier fabrics such as flannel or lighter materials like poplin, depending on climate.
- Polo shirts provide a classic casual style that is comfortable in warm weather.
- Hi-vis vests and a hard hat are parts of a manager’s construction site attire.
- Nice-looking boots or shoes that are clean and free of scuffs. While some supervisors may choose to switch back and forth between shoes for the office and boots for the job site, it is possible to find a pair that works for both.
- Accessories like watches, belts, and sunglasses can add a distinguishing touch to general contractors’ outfits.
What Do Women in Construction Wear?
While women will have different considerations as to fit and style, the basic elements of female construction project manager attire will not differ significantly from the male counterpart.
Clean, tailored shirts and slacks, coupled with modest, functional footwear and a few well-placed accessories, help lady bosses look the part whether in meetings or on job sites.
Fortunately, clothing manufacturers have caught up with the growing number of women in this profession by producing a wide variety of work boots and pants that offer a feminine fit. Like anyone, outfits for women in construction must be as sharp as rough-and-ready for the job.
What Not to Wear on a Construction Site
Everything revolves around safety when it comes to the don’ts of construction work clothes. So here are a few things to eliminate from your construction wardrobe:
- Jewelry: Can catch in tools or machinery to cause accidents.
- Shorts: Exposes the legs to cuts, burns, and chemical spills.
- Sandals: Poses a high risk of a debilitating foot injury.
- Loose, baggy, or torn clothing: May catch in tools or machinery to cause accidents.
- Shoes without good tread: May contribute to a fall, the leading cause of death on construction jobs.
Qualities to Look for in Construction Work Clothes
By now, you’ve probably understood that construction workers wear safe, comfortable, durable, and functional clothes. But checking all those boxes with one garment can be a challenge. So keep these things in mind.
Safety and OSHA Compliance
There are specific objective standards for construction site safety clothing set forth by OSHA and ANSI (American National Standards Institute.) It’s important to know exactly which functions you will perform on the job to choose the proper attire because inadequate PPE puts you at risk of serious harm. Talk to your boss to be sure you understand your role and the gear required for it.
Sun Protective UPF Ratings of 50+
One risk that nearly all construction workers have in common is a heat–related illness and skin cancer from prolonged exposure to the sun. The best shirts for construction workers have specially designed technical UPF 50+ sun protective fabric that blocks harmful UV rays and is comfortable to wear.
Functionality and Durability
Durability is always a factor in buying clothes if you don’t want them to wear out after a few washes. You work hard, so your attire should, too, right? But in the case of construction work clothes, it’s a matter of safety as well. Materials need to be tough enough to ward off all the hazards that result in cuts, burns, etc. At the same time, functionality means freedom of movement, so features like a gusseted crotch are helpful. Pockets also add to the practicality of construction attire.
Comfort and Coolness
Staying cool can be a challenge, especially because coverage from the sun is so important – and durable materials tend to be heavy. Breathable fabrics help, as does a fit that is loose enough to let air flow pass through freely (without being so loose that it might cause an accident.)
UPF clothing protects against skin cancer and helps block some of the radiative heat coming from the sun. Construction worker cold weather clothing usually means layering, especially with high-performance fabrics like merino wool.
The Basic Ingredients of a Construction Uniform Policy
Outfitting your team is an important responsibility that requires careful thought. For example, when choosing a construction worker uniform, you should ask what sort of working conditions people will encounter and what PPE will keep them safe and comfortable. At the same time, you want to create a look that represents your company attractively. So pick a color scheme and style, like blue UPF polos with your company logo on top and khaki pants on the bottom, for example.
The best construction uniform policy is neither so rigid that it causes resentment among employees nor vague that it allows them to look sloppy. Offer choices within limits–for example, any hoodie color as long as it does not have obscene or suggestive designs.
Learn How Suntect UPF Apparel Protects Construction Workers From UV
You want to know that everyone stayed safe, healthy, and happy on the job. A big part of that is making sure you are protecting your team from that ever-present yet often overlooked construction site hazard: The Sun.
Include UPF50+ protective clothing in your arsenal of construction safety attire.
Learn about sun protection and how UPF clothing works to keep you safe on the job: