Hesperian Health Guides

Hesperian Health Guides

Clothing and shoes

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HealthWiki > Workers' Guide to Health and Safety > Chapter 18: Personal protective equipment (PPE) > Clothing and shoes


Cloth or plastic protection over your clothing can protect your skin and clothes from some dusts and chemicals. Chemical-resistant clothing, such as aprons, suits, and boots, are necessary if you work with dangerous chemicals, especially acids. These chemicals can hurt you quickly and permanently.

Coats, aprons, and suits

Coveralls on top of your clothes will protect your skin and clothing from dust and splashes. But protective clothing, such as rubber aprons, long sleeves, and other PPE, can make you feel very hot, especially if your workplace is hot. Drinks lots of water, take breaks, and pay attention to signs of heat stress. Keeping the factory cooler will help reduce heat stress.

a worker on a platform at a large heated chemical bath; arrows point to PPE.
chemical- resistant gloves
face shield and safety glasses
apron
long sleeves and pants
boots

Cotton cloth coats and aprons will not protect you from many chemicals, but they can provide a barrier from dusts and small splashes from mild chemicals. They might give you some protection from sharp or rough materials. They should be washed in the factory. If you take them home to wash, wash them separately from your clothes.

Many body suits are made with a material that is thin and looks and feels like paper. They are meant to be worn only one time. Body suits used in cleanrooms, also called "bunny suits," protect the product, not the worker. They do not offer real protection from chemicals.

Chemical-resistant clothing is made from rubber, neoprene, or other plastic. These protect you from chemical splashes when they are the right kind for the chemical you are working with. If you work with corrosive chemicals, wear chemical-resistant protective clothing.

Closed-toe shoes and boots protect your feet better than sandals. If you wear sandals, wear ones with straps so they do not easily come off. A sturdy sole with some texture will not slip as easily as one that is smooth.

a worker speaking; he wears sandals and has slipped while moving a pile of shoe boxes.
We make safety shoes, but our boss won’t give us any!

Shoe covers or strap-on protectors are often made of a plastic or paper-like material. They may prevent dust and dirt from coming into the work area but provide only a little protection to you. If they cover the whole shoe and you throw them away after using them, they may prevent you bringing home dusts and chemicals on your shoes.

Most disposable shoe covers are slippery. Ask your employer for non-skid shoe covers that have texture on the bottom.

Shoes with laces or other closures are better than slip-ons.

Safety shoes are made of leather or a heavy material that will not melt. Wear safety shoes if you work in an area where things might fall on your feet. They might need chemical-resistant or strong soles that will not slip, and have metal or other material in the toe area to protect against something heavy dropping on it. If you work in an area where electrical static is common, shoes that conduct electricity will prevent you from making sparks while walking. However, if you might be exposed to electrical dangers (see Chapter 10), you should not wear shoes that conduct electricity.

Heavy plastic boots protect you best in areas where chemicals splash.

If you wear plastic boots, wash your socks and feet every day to prevent fungal infections. If your feet itch, air your feet as often as you can and use a foot powder.

When you wear safety shoes and boots:

  • Make sure they fit you well. Your toes should be comfortable without too much space. If you trip when you wear them, they are not the right size.
  • Look for tears, cracks or holes, or any area where the shoe might be breaking or coming apart.
  • Check the bottom of the shoe every day to make sure there are no metal or objects stuck on it.
  • Wear long pants over boots and shoes so chemicals do not get on your legs or in your boots.
  • Keep safety shoes at work or wear shoe protectors so you do not bring dust or chemicals home with you.


The right to personal protective equipment at work

The ILO Occupational Safety and Health Convention (No. 155) says employers must:

  • Protect workers from dangers at work by designing the workplace better, testing dangers regularly, choosing safer materials and systems, and installing and maintaining ventilation to reduce harm to workers.
  • Reduce dangers at work.
  • Provide workers with adequate protective clothing and safety equipment after all the other systems of protection are in place.
  • Provide workers with training and instruction for proper use of the equipment.
  • Provide first aid for emergencies and accidents.

The ILO Working Environment (Air Pollution, Noise, and Vibration) Convention (No. 148) says if it is not possible to reduce all of the air pollution employers must:

  • Provide and maintain personal protective equipment and ensure it fits workers.


The ILO Chemicals Convention (No. 170) says that the boss is responsible for protecting workers from chemicals by first using safer chemicals and then by making changes to the workplace.

If personal protective equipment is needed, bosses are responsible for giving workers personal protective equipment and clothing at no cost to the worker, creating the right conditions to allow workers to use PPE correctly, and maintaining and replacing PPE when needed.

The roles of the UN, ILO, and other international organizations that promote workers’ rights are explained in Appendix A.