When you think of protective workplace apparel, you may think of hazmat suits and safety goggles.  However, there are many types of protective apparel, and something as seemingly simple as a heavy duty work shirt can provide critical protection to employees in the workplace.  Whether employees work with dangerous chemicals, hot liquids, or in extreme temperatures, an employee’s clothing is an important factor in their safety.

Many people feel that protective apparel is only necessary in very dangerous working conditions, but even in work environments where risk seems relatively low, workplace apparel may be a good idea.  In addition to protecting employees from exposure, protective apparel can also increase safety in other ways.  For instance, brightly colored apparel can increase safety in environments where visibility is key.  Color-coded uniforms can help increase security by preventing accidental access by the wrong personnel.  Evaluate the workplace carefully to identify potential hazards, and consider how apparel may reduce any existing risks.

Protective apparel needs to be chosen with careful attention paid to the employee’s work environment.  Numerous factors come into play: materials that the employee may be exposed to, hot and cold temperatures, functionality, and comfort are just a few.  Does the employee need to frequently reach above their heads?  Do they need protective footwear in the event that heavy items are dropped?  Will they be working in very cold environments? 

Of course, in order for any protective apparel to work properly, it must be worn, and worn correctly.  This makes it crucial that apparel employees are properly trained in how to use their protective apparel and the role it plays in their own protection.  Apparel should be comfortable enough to withstand a typical employee work day, and should not hinder their ability to do their jobs correctly and safely.  Apparel that is uncomfortable, awkward or poorly constructed can lead to inconsistent usage by employees, increasing the risk of injury.

In addition to protective apparel, consider other protective equipment that the employee may need.  Gloves, goggles, protective footwear, breathing apparatus and other gear may be necessary to minimize the risk of immediate injury and potential health risks. 

To ensure consistent protection, consider regularly replacing apparel for employees.  This can help ensure that protective garments stay in peak condition, and continue to fit appropriately.  If you provide the apparel directly to the employee, schedule periodic fittings and replacements.  If the employee provides their own, consider setting aside an annual budget that can be used towards new apparel.  Additionally, ncourage employees to approach their supervisors with requests for equipment they feel is necessary to safely do their jobs.  Additionally, be sure to enforce clothing policies to ensure consistent compliance – employees need to understand the importance of wearing the apparel and how it can protect them.

In the end, protective apparel is as much an employer responsibility as it is a wise investment.  Keep your employees secure, provide the equipment and protective gear that they require to do their jobs safely, and protect your company from liability by choosing appropriate protective apparel.