Guide to protective clothing

iStock_000075216083_DoubleWhat type of body protection is needed?

There are two main types of protective clothing — clothing to protect the body and clothing to protect the whole person.

The main types of clothing used for body protection include:

  • Protection against cold, such as quilted, insulted jackets and full-body suits
  • Protection against wet weather, such as jackets, trousers and leggings
  • Protection against heat, e.g. special flame retardant clothing for welding and foundries
  • Protection against chemicals, including:
    • overalls and laboratory coats made out of cotton or synthetic materials for low-risk substances
    • coats, overalls and aprons made out of neoprene or coated nylon for strong solvents and oils
    • chemical suits for protection against high-risk substances, which completely enclose the person wearing them
    • vapour suits for protection against hazardous vapours
    • splash-resistant suits which may be made of limited use fabrics
  • Protection against chainsaws that covers the most vulnerable parts of the body (e.g. the fronts of the legs)
  • Chain-mail clothing for butchery (e.g. aprons).

The two main types of clothing worn to protect the whole person are:

  • High-visibility clothing, which is fluorescent so that people can be seen easily
  • Life jackets or buoyancy aids for people at risk of drowning because they are working on or near water.

Selecting suitable body protection

As well as providing adequate protection for the wearer, protective clothing must fit and be comfortable.

For waterproof clothing, breathable material is usually more comfortable for people who have to wear it for long periods, as it allows perspiration to escape. Layers of thin clothing may be more effective and comfortable for protection against the cold than bulky, thick coats.

Users should be involved in the selection process and attention must be given to the correct sizing. Employers must ensure that protective clothing meets all relevant European Standards for manufacture and protection (items complying carry the CE mark).

Protection from Chemicals and Hazardous Substances

  • Low-risk chemicals: use clothing, coveralls and laboratory coats made from chemical resistant materials such as uncoated cotton or synthetics like Terylene or nylon with a water-repellent finish.
  • Strong solvents, oils and greases: heavier quality coats, overalls and aprons should be used that are made from neoprene or polyurethane-coated nylon, Terylene or rubber.
  • High strength chemicals: totally encapsulating chemical suits should be used which are either vapour-proof or liquid splash-proof and are fed with breathable air.
  • Hazardous vapours: vapour suits are made from PVC, butyl, viton or Teflon.
  • Hazardous chemical splashes: splash-resistant chemical suits use PVC, viton, butyl, or limited use materials like saran-coated Tyvek and barricade fabrics. These will have shorter lives than vapour suits.
  • Dusts and fibres: man-made mineral fibres, asbestos and harmful dusts and particles can be protected from using coveralls and suits made from bonded olefin that forms a dense shield and has impermeable seams.

Thermal and weather protection

  • Wet weather protection: PVC coated nylon or cotton jackets, trousers and leggings will protect against rain. They resist cracking, tearing and abrasions. They will also resist most oils, greases, chemicals and acids. Some coated materials are breathable, so allow perspiration to escape while not allowing water in. Waxed cotton will also protect against the rain.
  • Cold weather and cold conditions: thermal protection suits rated to minus 25°C and minus 50°C are available. Quilted and insulated vests (body-warmers) and coats offer limited protection in cold weather, refrigerated stores and freezers.
  • High temperature protection:
    • foundries: aluminium asbestos clothing made from dust-suppressed materials will resist high temperatures. The outer skin is aluminium while the lining is cotton
    • foundries and welding: flame retarding clothing is mainly made from cotton or woollen materials. Aprons are made from chrome leather
    • steel smelting, foundries and rolling mills: heat-resistant metal-splash protection is available to protect from splashes of up to 1600°C
    • welding and burning: cotton or polyester cotton overalls are available with flame-retarding finishes to protect against flames and sparks.

High-visibility clothing

Where a risk assessment shows that a person may be at risk of being struck by vehicles or other moving machinery due to low-light conditions, bad weather or poor visibility, high visibility clothing should be worn. High visibility clothing is made from PVC material impregnated with fluorescent pigments that reflect light when shone onto it. The base materials of high visibility clothing are yellow or orange, with silver reflective tape on the body and sleeves of the garments.

The Department of Transport Traffic Signs Manual requires all personnel on or near carriageways to wear high visibility garments complying with BS EN 471:2003+A1: 2007 High-visibility Warning Clothing for Professional Use. Test Methods and Requirements.

Is the body protection compatible with the work to be done?

Some types of body protection will restrict movement and may make jobs harder to carry out. For example, full body suits are inevitably going to affect how the people wearing them move as well as their ability to work.

Some other kinds of PPE can be combined with body protection. For example, full body suits will have to include some form of breathing apparatus. Jackets to keep people warm and dry can incorporate high-visibility clothing.

Body protection: storage and maintenance

Most clothing, unless it becomes contaminated during use, only requires simple storage facilities, e.g. pegs and lockers.

Any clothing will need to be washed regularly. If it is contaminated with hazardous substances, it should be sent to a specialist cleaner and must never be taken home for cleaning.

All protective clothing should be regularly checked and kept in good condition.

Other types of body protection will need more rigorous inspections and tests. For example, chemical suits should be inspected every three months, even if not in use, as they have a limited life span. They should be washed after use and hung to dry, before being stored in cases or hung on hangers. They will need an air test (inflation of the garment) and a thorough examination of all seams. Vapour suits need to be air tested with the manufacturer’s test kit and stored in a protective case.


Disclaimer: The information provided through Legislation Watch is for general guidance only and is not legal advice. Legislation Watch is not a substitute for Health and Safety consultancy. You should seek independent advice about any legal matter.

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