Essential PPE to CYA (And Other Useful Body Parts) While OTJ And DIY

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essential ppe

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away (Buffalo, NY), I started work as an apprentice framing carpenter. Back then, safety gear, aka PPE (Personal Protective Equipment), was scarce on the job site. At least on the job sites I worked on. I don’t remember ever seeing anyone with safety glasses, dust masks or hearing protection, and if anyone had asked for a safety harness for roofing work, he’d probably have ended up duct taped to the chimney. Luckily, changes in work rules and attitudes have made it much more likely that today’s workers will be using one or more forms of essential PPE to protect themselves on the job. Slip into something more comfortable, like your favorite reflective vest, and join us for a head-to-toe look at some great gear to CYA.

Let’s be careful out there!

Although there’s still a fair bit of macho attitude on most construction sites, most workers in the trades are pretty smart. Smart enough to be interested in finishing the work day with the same number of eyes, lungs, fingers and toes as they began it with. We’ll take a look at some commonplace items that everyone is likely to be familiar with, and we’ll explore a few specialty items that you might not be aware of. Who knows – one of them might even SAVE your butt – or some other treasured body part!

Note: By no means is this post intended to be a comprehensive guide for every occupation or situation. Think of it as an overview of some of the most commonly used and readily available PPE for workers in the trades, as well as homeowners and DIYers who hope to enjoy continued use of all their senses.

Top Down Approach To Essential PPE: The Hardhat

Although it’s not always evident, most humans have brains. Since they control pretty much everything we do, most of us would like to keep them intact and functioning as long as possible. Because many job sites are treacherous places, the hardhat has been a member of the essential PPE lineup for a long time.

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Danger is everywhere. Use your PPE!

Happily for anyone who has to wear one, the hardhat has evolved quite a bit over the past few decades. My old hardhat had a cracked fake leather headband, which was almost totally useless when it came to keeping the thing on my head. Sure was an awesome sweat generator, though!

Milwaukee’s hardhat is comfortable, and easy to adjust…

The linings of Milwaukee hardhats, on the other hand, have a very comfortable headband, with padded moisture-wicking areas on the front, rear and top. A four-point ratcheting suspension system makes it easy to snug up that headband, since a hardhat is much more useful if it actually stays on your head.

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And it stays firmly put. Even if I start working.

Several BOLT accessory slots make the Milwaukee hardhats even more useful. A BOLT marker clip, capable of holding a marker or pencil, is included, along with a headlamp mount, capable of holding Milwaukee and most other professional brands of head lamps. Additional slots can be used to mount other accessories like face shields or hearing protection.

Milwaukee hardhats are available in several versions, in both Class C and Class E (electrical protection) models. We received the Class E model, Milwaukee product # 48-73-1030, and it was easy to set up and adjust, very comfortable (for a hardhat), and IT STAYED ON MY HEAD! If your head is worth $20 – $25, try one on.

Milwaukee Type 1 Class E hard hat

Buy Now - via Home Depot

Here’s Mud In Your Eye – Also, Dust, Metal, Glass…

According to the CDC and NIOSH, there are approximately 2,000 on-the-job eye injuries at work in the U.S. – EVERY DAY. Not surprisingly, they say that construction workers have one of the highest eye injury rates, thanks to particles of dust, metal and wood splinters, drywall, cement dust – even ricocheting nails (ouch!). Splashing gasoline or chemicals are other common causes of serious eye damage.

For most of us, being able to see ranks right up there with having a functioning brain. This earns a good pair of safety glasses a spot right near the top of the “essential PPE” food chain. As we detailed above, many job sites provide ample opportunities to launch foreign object into your eyeballs.

That threat doesn’t exist solely on the job, though; DIYers and homeowners are definitely not exempt from those “You’ll put your eye out!” moments. Lawnmowers, string trimmers, circular saws, sanders…let me count the ways. Luckily, protecting our sight is simple, relatively inexpensive, and potentially even stylish! Safety glasses used to be big, clunky, and, well, ugly. Not that most folks working in the trades are slaves to fashion, but hey – everybody likes to look sharp, right?!

The standard to look for in a good pair of safety glasses, stylish or otherwise, is ANSI Z87.1. This rating ensures that your “safety” glasses provide a certain level of protection for your eyes, in terms of impact resistance, non-ionizing radiation and liquid splash protection.

ANSI Z87.1 rated safety glasses are available in a huge variety of shapes, colors and sizes, including wrap-around styles. You can choose from among a wide variety of glasses with clear lenses, for indoor use, or outdoors for those living in sun-deprived locales such as western Pennsylvania. Polarized and tinted lenses, for those fun in the sun tasks, are also available, for those living in sunnier climes like Arizona or San Diego.

Cover Your Eyes

There are many purveyors of safety glasses to choose from, covering the spectrum of quality and price. DeWalt and Milwaukee each offer multiple options, and as you’d expect from these two big guns, the quality is very good.

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Two Supervisors, one Renovator. Typical.

DeWalt sent samples of two of their eye-protection products for us to try out. First up, I slipped on a pair of their Renovator model glasses (DPG108) while doing some yard work, and shoveling out a truck load of topsoil. The Renovators have a removable rubber brow guard for extra protection, and an adjustable nosepiece and rubber temple to keep the glasses from sliding off while you do all the work.

The DeWalt Renovators kept the sun out of my eyes while I did all the work…

When it was time for a break, I swapped the Renovators out for a pair of their Supervisor model tinted glasses (DPG107). I immediately felt smarter, cooler, more powerful, better compensated, and less inclined to pick up the shovel again. Both pair of DeWalt safety glasses were lightweight and comfortable. More importantly, both provide 99% protection from UVA and UVB rays, and both are Z87.1 compliant. And they both look sharp!

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THAT’s more like it – the Supervisor is much more my style.

The folks at Milwaukee Tool sent us samples of their high-end gasketed eye protection, in both clear and tinted versions. As with the DeWalt Renovator, the gasket is removable, in case you miss the little chunks of debris cascading down behind the lenses. To help keep those lenses clear, Milwaukee treats them with an anti-fog coating, which worked well in my usage.

Milwaukee’s gasketed safety glasses come in clear and tinted versions.
The removable gasket helps keep crud out of your eyes.

Milwaukee also upped their game when it came to impact resistance. They went beyond the Z87.1 spec and increased protection to the Z87.1+ level; the lenses also meet military grade impact specs. I don’t think that means they’re bullet proof, though, so don’t get all crazy testing ‘em out. A little drawstring pouch comes with every pair, to help protect your protection when it’s not protecting YOU.

A drawstring bag keeps your lenses safe when they’re off-duty.

I tried both the clear and tinted versions (yes – we got a sunny day!) while doing various yard work. I had them on while doing some hammer drilling, while cutting up a fallen apple tree, and while doing some more weedwhacking. I especially appreciate the extra protection when using the string trimmer, because I routinely get pelted with chunks of various debris every time I’m out there. The Milwaukee safety glasses have a very sturdy feel, while still being lightweight and comfortable. And again – pretty sharp looking!

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Keeping little chunks out of my eyes is my goal.

Milwaukee clear gasketed safety glasses from the Home Depot:

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Milwaukee polarized gasketed safety glasses from the HOme Depot:

Buy Now - via Home Depot

Various DeWalt Safety Glasses from the Home Depot:

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Take A Deep Breath…The Essential PPE EVERYBODY Knows!

OK – I assume by now there is no one on the planet who doesn’t know what an N95 mask is. You may have to do a bit of searching to actually be able to BUY one at the moment, but in the current Covid-19 plagued environment, it’s the gold standard of paper masks.

Masks aren’t just for pandemics, though; they were essential PPE long ago for anyone averse to filling their lungs with dust. A good-quality N95 mask does a great job keeping out sawdust, sanding dust, and other airborne particulate junk, like the cloud of dust you stir up while sweeping your shop, and even pollen! The “95” in N95, by the way, means that the mask is NIOSH certified to provide at least 95% filtration efficiency in keeping out the crud.

N95 masks are the current gold standard…

Although N95 respirators are in high demand at the moment, Milwaukee sent along one of their newer versions: the Milwaukee N95 Valved Respirator with Gasket. Anyone who’s ever actually worn a typical N95 mask knows that most of them aren’t very comfortable. The elastic bands are annoying, your face tends to get hot and sweaty, and if you wear glasses, safety or otherwise, it doesn’t take long to get a good coat of dew built up on them.

Milwaukee upgraded pretty much every aspect of their N95 valved masks. A wide gasket sits between the edge of the mask and your face, making it much more comfortable. The straps are wider, with sliding adjusters that allow you to get the exact amount of tension you want.

The gasket and straps feel comfortable, and the mask seals well.

The biggest upgrade, though, is the valve. It exhausts your sweet but humid breath, and points it downward, so it doesn’t fog up your specs. It also reduces the temperature inside the mask by 10 degrees compared to a non-valved mask, a welcome reduction when you’re wearing it for extended periods.

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The vent lets out the hot, stinky air, and looks mildly badass.

I wore it for over an hour on a very hot day; while it wasn’t exactly fun, my glasses didn’t steam up, and it was definitely more comfortable to wear than a standard N95 mask. It also lends you a little Darth Vader/Silence of the Lambs vibe, which never hurts! The best part is, they’re not even that expensive; a 10-pack is only $25. Or will be, when they’re available again.

Useful as it obviously is, the N95 mask isn’t the solution to every filtration problem. N95 type masks are great for keeping out nuisance-level, non toxic types of dust and particulates. If you’re working with asbestos, spray paint, substances with lots of nasty VOCs, mold spores, or other potentially toxic substances, you need to up your masking game, and find an appropriate respirator.

The Home Depot has a very good overview of various masks and respirators, with explanations of the type of hazards each one protects you from. They also have links to a wide variety of masks, respirators, and various cartridges to use in the respirators. If you work with any type of hazardous materials, it’s definitely worth a look.

Milwaukee gasketed N95 mask from the Home Depot:

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Can You Hear Me Now? Essential PPE For Your Ears

I’ve always loved the sounds you hear on a construction site. Hammers hammering, nail guns banging away, saws ripping through lumber – it’s the sound of stuff getting done, of something being built. Up close, though, some of those sounds can be pretty harsh; ever worked with a hammer drill, or in impact driver 18” from your ear? Those are just a couple of the many tools that mean it’s time to break out the hearing protection.

Breaking out the hammer drill? Bring the hearing protection, too…

According to the CDC, exposure to sound levels over 70dB for a prolonged period can start to cause permanent hearing loss. Pretty much EVERY power tool is louder than that, so hearing protection is definitely essential PPE. There are basically two ways to keep those pesky loud noises out of your ears: In the ear and over the ear protection. In the ear is just what it sounds like – ear plugs. There are several types available, including roll-up foam plugs and various versions of rubber earplugs, both with and without a connecting cord.

Ear plugs can do an excellent job keeping out the NOISE.

The advantage? Ear plugs can do a very good job blocking out noise, they take up very little space, and they’re pretty cheap. The downside? They get lost easily, they get dirty, some of them can be challenging to insert correctly, and many people, myself included, just don’t like having something jammed into their ears.

Option B is the over-the-ear style of hearing protection, aka ear muffs. They’re available from a wide variety of manufacturers, with a wide range of quality and price. Broadly speaking, more money gets you better features and quality, and should also get you a better level of protection.

Especially if you’ll be wearing your hearing protection for extended periods, make sure the top and the pieces that cover your ears are well padded and comfortable. Make sure that the headband will adjust to fit comfortably over your ears, and check that the muffs stay securely in place once adjusted.

Along with comfort, one key feature you’ll want to look at when evaluating any hearing protection is its Noise Reduction Rating, or NRR. Sound (noise) is measured in decibels (dB), and the NRR gives an estimate of the reduction in sound level, measured in decibels, that your hearing protection will provide. As an example, if you’re working with a jackhammer putting out a sound level of 100dB, and your hearing protection has a NRR of 23dB, theoretically the sound that reaches your ears is reduced to about 77dB.

Note the use of “theoretically;” the reality is that the actual reduction depends on a number of factors, such as the duration and frequency of the noise, and how well you fitted your hearing protection. An excellent exploration of the NRR system can be found here.

As I mentioned, I’m not a fan of the ear-plug mode of protection. I can never seem to get them seated properly, and since I don’t normally need protection for long periods of time, it’s easier to just slap on the ear muffs. DeWalt sent along a couple of offerings from their hearing protection lineup for us to check out. One was good but unexciting; the other is my new go-to set of muffs.

DeWalt sent two sets of muffs: The Interrupter (L) and the Premium Bluetooth muffs.

The first offering was a pair of DeWalt Interrupter ear muffs, model DPG64. They were easy to adjust, and fit fairly comfortably. With a stated NRR of 23dB, they did a fairly good job blocking out the noise from my impact driver and lawnmower.

I was much more intrigued by the second set of muffs, the DeWalt Premium Bluetooth Hearing Protector, model DPG17. As the “Premium” in the title suggests, there’s an obvious jump in quality when compared to the basic set of ear muffs. They feel more robust, and the use of memory foam, rather than foam rubber, in the muffs and headband makes them more comfortable to wear.

The Premium Bluetooth muffs synced up easily with my iPhone.

Then, of course, there’s the little bonus of being able to stream music while keeping the evil noises at bay and getting the work done. The premium DeWalt muffs synced up quickly with my iPhone, and a built-in microphone even lets you make and receive calls without removing them.

Some settings are controlled on the muffs, some on your phone.

I topped up the internal Lithium Ion battery with the supplied USB charging cable, grabbed my iPhone, and headed out to finish cutting the grass. The DeWalt Bluetooth muffs, which have a NRR of 25dB, are superb at keeping out the noise. During my lawnmowing, and later while using an impact driver, I could barely hear the sounds from outside. Meanwhile, the music came through loud (but not TOO loud) and clear.

Note: This may not be desirable in every circumstance. On a job site, depending on what your job function is, it could be distracting. The same goes for doing yard work, especially if little kids are prone to darting into your path. Much of my work is done solo these days, though, and the ability to drown out the bad noise and hear soothing melodies makes me a HAPPY solo worker.

DeWalt Interrupter ear muffs for around $10 at the Home Depot:

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DeWalt Premium Bluetooth ear muffs for around $54 at Amazon:

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Essential PPE For Your Torso: You Have A Vested Interest

Getting back to fashion options, says high style quite like a hi-vis safety vest. These reflective beauties are a form of essential PPE commonly seen on road construction crews, as they strive to survive in an era of speeding idiots sending text messages while wolfing down an Impossible Whopper. They’re also fairly common on large construction sites, with lots of potentially distracted workers and large vehicles working in chaotic surroundings.

Essential PPE indeed for those who brave highways and busy job sites.

Available from numerous suppliers, usually in either ORANGE or GREEN, the hi-vis vest seems like a fairly mundane piece of work wear. Many are pretty utilitarian, with perhaps a pocket or two, if you’re lucky. There are much better-thought-out versions, though, including the Hi-Vis Performance Safety Vest, model 48-73-5042, recently sent to us by Milwaukee.

The Milwaukee Performance Safety Vest – pockets and reflective tape galore!

If you have a bunch of stuff to schlep around while you’re trying not to get run over, Milwaukee has you in mind with this vest. The hi-vis Performance vest sports two mic tabs, a clear ID holder, two chest pockets, four reinforced pen pockets, two reinforced barrel pockets, and a zippered tablet pocket around the back.

And that’s just on the outside! Inside, there’s another chest pocket and two more barrel pockets – ‘cuz you can never have too many barrels. Many of the pockets have hook-and-loop closures, to keep your stuff from falling out and getting run over by a rampaging skid-steer. For those of you trying not to get knocked off the roof, there’s a fall protection pass-through on the back of the vest.

Since most workers who wear these vests have them on all day every day, comfort and convenience are also prime considerations. Milwaukee’s Performance vest has a comfortable padded collar and an internal size adjustment strap, so you can look as svelte, or as burly, as you want. A sturdy zippered closure makes it fast and easy to get vested up and ready for another round of “Dodge the daydreamers.”

For those interested in the specs, the Milwaukee Hi-Vis Performance Vest is a Type R Class 2 vest, and it complies with ANSI/ISEA 107-15 requirements. Translation: It’s approved for crazy work zones. The vest is available in size S/M, L/XL, and XXL/XXXL, and best of all, it’s available in both orange AND green!

Available in ALL the high-fashion hi-vis colors!

Buy the Milwaukee Performance Hi-Vis Vest from Ohio Power Tool:

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One Of The Most Common Forms Of PPE, Hands Down

No matter what kind of work you do, odds are pretty good you’re using your hands to do a fair bit of it. When I was a young whippersnapper, I almost NEVER wore gloves. I figured callouses, blisters, splinters and dirt were the evidence I’d done a good day’s work. I still strive to put in a good day’s work, but now I usually do it with a pair of gloves on, and let the work speak for itself.

The type of gloves I most typically use are general heavy-duty work gloves. For doing demo, construction, and general cleanup, they provide protection against splinters, cuts and scrapes, and keep a good bit of dirt from embedding itself in my skin.

All home centers and hardware stores stock a good variety of general-purpose work gloves. My problem, usually, is finding some that fit my fairly large hands. While I can sometimes find gloves that fit, often they’re so poorly made that they come apart during the first use.

Fortunately, there are more robust options available; some of them even fit! DeWalt and Milwaukee each sent samples from among the huge variety of work gloves they offer, for our essential PPE overview; let’s try ‘em on.

We’ll start with Team Red. I’ve had various models of Milwaukee work gloves in the past, and the quality has always been good. My current pair of Milwaukee FreeFlex work gloves has been in use for a while, and is holding up well. I especially like that I can get them in size XXL, which are still a wee bit snug, but comfortable enough that I can fully flex my hand. The gloves they sent were pretty easy to find in the package; one was Hi-Vis green and the other Milwaukee RED.

I was intrigued by the red Impact Demolition Gloves; they made me first think of motocross gloves. The gloves have a thick, segmented red impact-rated enhanced TPR (Thermoplastic rubber) padding across the back of the hand, and thick black TPR padding along the top edge of each finger. The palms and fingertips also have a somewhat thinner layer of dimpled black rubber padding.

Very beefy gloves. I think I’ll still try to avoid whacking my hand with a hammer, though…

The gloves are very robust looking, and clearly designed for heavy-duty use. Along with impact protection (the gloves are ANSI/ISEA 138 impact rated level 2), the padding helps reduce vibration, and makes the gloves very slip-resistant. A sturdy hook-and-loop closure keeps the gloves snug around your wrist, in case you’d rather not fill them with debris.

The palm is also padded, with a non-slip surface.

Milwaukee’s Impact Demolition Gloves, product # 48-22-8753, are available in sizes from S – XXL; the pair we received was XL, and I could get them on, but they were snug. These are some of the beefiest work gloves I’ve ever used; given how often I smash my hands into immovable objects, or smash various things into my hands, I WILL be buying a pair of these in size XXL!

Buy Milwaukee Impact Demolition Gloves from Ohio Power Tool:

Buy Now - via Ohio Power Tool

And on to the green gloves, which definitely have a place in the essential PPE lineup. Anyone who works with sharp tools, or comes in contact with jagged edges, broken glass, etc. is probably familiar with cut-protection gloves. The hi-vis Milwaukee gloves we got are nitrile-dipped gloves, with high-performance polyethylene woven into the gloves, to provide level 4 cut protection.

Milwaukee’s cut-resistant gloves should be tough to lose…

What exactly does “Level 4 protection” mean? According to the ANSI standard, a level 4 glove would be suitable for Appliance Manufacturing, Automotive, Construction, Glass Handling, Machining, Metal Handling, Metal Stamping and Paper Production

Despite their protective qualities, the gloves are very lightweight and breathable. And they sure are easy to find! For those of you who enjoy using your smart phone while working with sharp objects, the gloves feature SMARTSWIPE touchscreen-compatible fingertips. Milwaukee Hi-Vis cut-resistant gloves are available in sizes ranging from S – XXL; I could get the size XXL on, but they were snug around my fingers.

Breathable fabric on the back, nitrile dipped on the front.

Anyone who has to work outdoors, or in poorly-heated spaces, should check out our earlier review on Milwaukee’s insulated cut-resistant gloves. Milwaukee also offers heated gloves; although they’re not cut-resistant, anyone living in the snow belt might be VERY happy to have a pair. Milwaukee, DeWalt, and other major producers offer a HUGE assortment of other work gloves; just do a search for “(insert favorite brand here) work gloves”, and settle in to winnow them down.

Milwaukee Hi-Vis Cut Resistant Gloves from the Home Depot:

Buy Now - via Home Depot

DeWalt’s Hand Protection Offerings

When we opened the box of essential PPE from DeWalt, there was a trio of gloves to try out. Each was intended for a different type of user, and one was a clear winner for MY way of working. Since we left off with cut-resistant gloves, we’ll start off with the pair of DeWalt Cut Protection Gloves with Dyneema!

OK, my first question was, “What’s Dyneema?” Turns out it’s not the latest wonder drug, with six pages of warnings about possible adverse side effects; it’s just DeWalt’s term for the technology that helps radiate heat away from your hands. It enables the gloves to be very thin and lightweight. A nitrile palm, similar to that on the Milwaukee gloves, helps increase abrasion resistance and durability.

DeWalt Cut Resistant gloves also have a lightweight back side.
The nitrile palm adds strength and slip-resistance.

DeWalt’s cut resistant gloves, product # DPGD809, are also touchscreen capable. They have a cut level rating of A3, and DeWalt says they’re intended uses include construction, automotive, metal fabrication and glass manufacturing. They’re available in size L and XL; I had the size XL, and while I could get them on, they were snug around my fingers.

The next pair of DeWalt gloves should be of interest to mechanics and anyone else who needs to maintain some dexterity in their work. DeWalt’s Tread Grip gloves are super lightweight, made with a breathable blend of spandex and polyester. The nitrile-dipped palm surface is very “grippy,” making it easy to get a grip on hand tools and small parts, even if they’re wet or greasy.

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Getting a grip is easy with the tread-grip surface…

A cuff around the wrist helps keep the gloves in place, and keeps little parts from trickling down inside. Seamless construction helps eliminate irritating chafing points. Fair warning to you device addicts: These gloves are (gasp!) NOT touchscreen compatible – you’ll have to actually take off your glove to send a text.

DeWalt Tread Grip gloves, product # DPG76, are available in size L and XL; I got the size XL, and although they were snug (for something completely different!), the material is so stretchy that they actually weren’t a bad fit. I was able to fully flex my fist, something that’s difficult or impossible with many gloves.

Even though they were a bit snug, the gloves are very stretchy…

Finally, the DeWalt gloves that I was most excited about. Well, as excited as you can get over a pair of gloves, anyhow. As I mentioned earlier, much of what I do is demo, general construction, yard work and the like. I like a pair of sturdy gloves that are easy to get on and off, offer decent protection, and hold up well. DeWalt’s Leather Performance Hybrid gloves, product # DPG216, tick all the boxes.

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DeWalt’s Leather Performance Hybrid gloves are rugged – and they fit me!

To begin with, the feature that contributes most to my excitement is the fact that THEY FIT! The gloves are available in L and XL, and the size XL gloves actually fit me very comfortably. There’s no tightness in the fingers, and I can easily flex my hand. Woohoo!

I used the gloves for several tasks over a period of a couple of weeks, including moving rocks, doing lots of shoveling, stacking long pressure-treated joists, and doing yard work. The gloves held up very well, and the lightweight spandex back side of the gloves, helped dissipate some of the heat.

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The gloves are great general-purpose work gloves.

The split cowhide palm side of the gloves seems very well made, and a reinforced area should help them to hold up well. The cuff is loose, which I prefer, as it makes the gloves easier to get on and off, and I had no trouble with them slipping down. If you have large hands, and need a pair of sturdy general-purpose work gloves, try a pair of these.

Buy DeWalt Leather Performance Hybrid gloves from the Home Depot:

Buy Now - via Home Depot

Buy DeWalt Tread Grip gloves from Amazon:

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When Your Work Brings You To Your Knees

Though it pains me to admit it, I am apparently getting older. I (somewhat) clearly remember a time when I could work on my knees, installing tile or hardwood flooring, and actually be able to stand up afterwards – unassisted! Okay, I’m not quite that bad yet, but I try to foist off any work that requires proximity to the floor on to someone else. On those sad occasions when there is no one to foist onto, I break out the knee pads.

Way back in the day when I didn’t actually NEED knee pads, most of them were a pretty basic commodity. Stiff plastic cups that fit (more or less) over your knees, and nylon straps to cinch them up and hold them on. They tended not to be very comfortable, and to alternate between sliding down around the ankle and rotating around the knee.

Thankfully, engineers – probably old, arthritic engineers – have been hard at work making knee pads more useful. We now have knee pads with gel, memory foam, and various other wonders of technology aimed at making our low-down time more comfortable. For the last couple of years, when circumstances conspire against me, and I must go low, I’ve donned a pair of Toughbuilt Foamfit knee pads.

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They’re very comfortable to kneel on, the straps are relatively unobtrusive, and most importantly, the pads stay in place very nicely, with no riding down or twisting. It almost makes it enjoyable to work on my knees! Just kidding. Unfortunately, my pair “disappeared” a couple of months ago, but I WILL be replacing them, as they are certainly essential PPE for me.

There are lots of options out there when it comes to knee pads. If your work requires you to spend time with your knees bent, do yourself a favor and invest in a quality pair of knee pads, BEFORE your knees start clicking and aching. Most home centers carry a good assortment, so try them on if you can, and don’t go too cheap; the ability to stand up on your own is priceless.

Toughbuilt Foamfit Stabilizer Knee Pads from the Home Depot:

Buy Now - via Home Depot

Give Crappy Footwear The Boot

And finally, we reach the Toe portion of our Head-to-Toe look at Essential PPE. When I showed up for my first day on the job as an apprentice framing carpenter, the foreman took one look at my sneakers, and said in a not-very-happy tone, “Come back when you have a pair of work boots.” I hustled off to Sears, bought the cheapest pair of boots I could find (hey, I was young and poor), and hustled back. The foreman looked at my cheapo boots, and said “You’ll be sorry – now get to work!” I didn’t know what he meant until the next day – when I could barely get the boots back on, because my feet were so blistered and sore.

I’m a whole lot smarter now (when it comes to shoes, anyhow), and I buy the best-made, most comfortable work shoes I can afford. Especially for those of us who spend most, or all, of the work day on our feet, having a sturdy pair of shoes that fits well is crucial. A quality pair of footwear will cost you more up front, but it will be more comfortable, provide better support, and likely far outlast the “bargain” footwear.

Check the stitching and overall construction quality when buying work boots.

There are many suppliers of quality work boots and shoes. For the past several years, I’ve worn nothing but KEEN Utility work boots and shoes. I have some with steel toes, and some without. The common denominator? They’re VERY well made, they’re comfortable, and they fit perfectly with no break-in period.

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Treat your feet to sturdy shoes that fit well.

A major advantage of checking with KEEN for work shoes is the sheer number of choices available. They offer shoes, service shoes, slip-ons, pull-ons, and boots. Want toe protection? Choose among steel toe, aluminum toe and carbon fiber protection. Need special features for your work environment? KEEN Utility offers models that are slip resistant, waterproof, EH (electrical hazard) rated, and ESD (electro-static dissipative) rated.

KEEN Utility footwear is available in various retail locations, or online directly from KEEN. They’re a very socially responsible company, and recently, during the pandemic they provided 100,000 pair of FREE shoes to front-line workers! They also have a factory in Portland, Oregon, that produces several of their styles, for those interested in buying American.

KEEN Utility work shoes and boots:

More Info - via KEEN Utility

Some Final Random Essential PPE

The universe of essential PPE is constantly expanding, as more and more workplaces focus on safety, whether inspired by enlightened self-interest or a violation notice from OSHA. We’ll wrap up with a few less-common, but equally valuable, items that might belong in YOUR Essential PPE arsenal

Wondering Whether To Tether?

Ever dropped a tool? Me too; it sucks. Ever dropped a tool from the top of a ladder? I have, and that REALLY sucks. My most recent fumble-fingered moment came while I was attaching a weather vane to the peak of a garage roof, about 16’ up. I used an impact driver to get the vane solidly attached, and was starting down the ladder, when I lost my grip on the tool, and it fell to the concrete below. Thankfully, no one was directly under me, because no one was wearing a hard hat. Not surprisingly, the impact driver had called it quits.

Apparently, I’m not alone when it comes to being a klutz. Every 11 minutes, someone in the U.S. is injured by a dropped object, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. And 5% of all workplace fatalities are caused by those dropped objects. My broken tool – and the danger to those below who WEREN’T WEARING THEIR ESSENTIAL PPE! – could have been avoided through the use of a tool tethering lanyard. A lanyard like the one Milwaukee sent us to try out, product # 48-22-8815. Here’s a quick overview of tool tethering from our friends at Ohio Power Tool:

Available with weight capacities of 10, 15 and 35 lbs., and in lengths of 36”, 54” and 72”, Milwaukee’s tool lanyards attach securely to the tool, and are anchored using locking carabiners. The body of the lanyard is designed to work as a kind of shock absorber, slowing the tool gradually if it’s dropped. A swiveling carabiner helps prevent the tool from getting twisted up in the lanyard, and the lanyards are color coded so you can easily identify their weight rating.

essential ppe
A swiveling carabiner helps prevent tangles…
And Milwaukee’s lanyards are labeled to show their weight capacity.

If you occasionally have your dropsy moments, and you’d like to avoid breaking your expensive tools, or injuring or killing your coworkers, invest a few bucks in a tool tethering lanyard. It’s essential PPE for anyone working off the ground, and a MUCH better option than buying a new tool, or defending yourself in a lawsuit.

Dropping tools can end badly…

Various tool lanyards from Ohio Power Tool:

Buy Now - via Ohio Power Tool

Up On The Rooftop

As you might imagine, working high up on a roof is one of the most dangerous jobs there is. OSHA says that falls are the leading cause of death in the construction industry, with falls from roofs accounting for 34% of all fall deaths.

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If you spend any time working on a roof, there are things you can do to avoid being in that 34%. The first thing is situational awareness and common sense; be aware of your surroundings, and don’t take stupid chances. Next, make sure you have a good pair of slip-resistant shoes.

As far as essential PPE for roofers goes, the biggest thing you can do to improve your odds of staying safe is to invest in some fall protection gear.

A basic setup consists of a harness that goes on your body, a rope or strap, and an anchor to secure the system to the roof. You can buy the entire system for a bit over a hundred bucks. That’s about the same as the copay for an E.R. visit, and way cheaper than a casket…

A bucket full of fall protection.

Werner fall protection kit for roofers from the Home Depot:

Buy Now - via Home Depot

If A Tree Falls In The Forest…

We’ll wrap up our look at essential PPE with a couple of items geared toward the lumberjacks in the audience. Most pros working in the tree-service or lumbering trades are already familiar with these items. There are a lot of homeowners and landowners who do a fair bit of chainsaw wrangling, though, and these two items should definitely be in your sawdust-making arsenal.

Before the chain starts spinning, grab your protective gear.

First up is a helmet, with integrated hearing protection. Chainsaws can spew out an incredible amount of wood chips, and invariably a lot of those chips come right back at you. A helmet, with a face shield, can keep those chips out of your face and eyes, and potentially prevent a loss-of-control accident. The helmet can also help provide some protection from falling branches; when branch meets head, head generally loses.

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Save face with a helmet with face shield and ear muffs.

Gas-fired chainsaws are noisy beasts, which is why I recommend having integrated ear muffs with your helmet. They’re always there, so you don’t have an excuse for not using them, and they can be swung up out of the way when you don’t need them.

Chain saw helmet with earmuffs from the Home Depot:

Buy Now - via Home Depot

Obviously, chain saws are dangerous tools. Anything with a rapidly spinning chain that can cut through several inches of wood in a few seconds demands respect – and protection. Most modern saws have kickback protection, but since much of the cutting is done at or below waist level, the user’s legs are very vulnerable.

Luckily, there’s an easy way to protect those gams. Protective pants and chaps are available from several makers, capable of stopping the chains saw’s blade before it can slice through your leg. Talk about essential PPE! Most are made of layers of tough polyester, that quickly jams up the saw’s chain and stops it when the chain comes in contact with the fabric. Here’s a quick overview from the folks at Stihl:

So when you head out to do your Paul Bunyan imitation, make sure your helmet and chaps are along for the fun. Along with a good pair of gloves. And some slip-resistant shoes.

Chain saw protective chaps from Amazon:

Buy Now - via Amazon

And with that, we’ll wrap up our not-so-brief overview of essential PPE. There are many other products available out there to help keep you safe; figure out what hazards YOU face, and shop accordingly. Stay safe, and tell us about YOUR favorite piece of essential PPE!

essential ppe

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About Phil

Phil’s path to the pinnacle of success as HomeFixated’s Senior Writer was long and twisted. At various stages of his life, he worked as a framing carpenter, attended motorcycle mechanics school, served as an Army MP, did a hot and itchy stint installing insulation in Phoenix, owned and operated a small contracting firm doing residential renovations, and worked as an employee of a major airline (Motto: We’re not happy ‘til YOU’RE not happy). He is currently semi-retired, but continues to take on little projects, such as the total renovation of an old farmhouse. Yes, he is a slow learner. Future projects include a teardown restoration of his 1965 BMW motorcycle, and designing and building a kick-ass playhouse for his grandsons. Phil loves spending time outdoors, hanging out with family and friends, cool tools, and a cold IPA when beer o'clock rolls around.

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3 thoughts on “Essential PPE to CYA (And Other Useful Body Parts) While OTJ And DIY”

  1. Something else worth noting. If you do have an old Hard Hat lying around, it’s worth checking when it was made and being certain it’s not expired before you count on it to protect your head. Most Hard Hats, being made of plastic, have a limited life space due to the tendency of the plastic to turn more brittle with age, especially if they have been used more and experienced more UV radiation (ie: been used outside), etc., and therefore are more likely to shatter under impact instead of protecting your properly. OSHA refers you to ANSI, which I believe refers one to the manufacturer to determine your exact expiration date, but as an example, MSA, one of the big manufacturer’s indicate that their shells expire after 5 years from first use and the suspensions should be replaced every 12 months. Anyway, just a thought. Maybe it’s time to check that manufacture date and consider a new one!


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