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High-quality workwear is essential to those who work outdoors or in high-risk occupations.

Not everybody wears a suit to work. [© Jupter Images, 2010]
© Jupter Images, 2010
Not everybody wears a suit to work.


Quality outdoor workwear is essential for keeping workers of all kinds safe and comfortable. Developments in technology have led to flame-retardant materials valued by welders, workwear that protects people from electric shock and waterproof materials that can breathe. Still, Corporate Apparel Magazine reports that the most popular outdoor workwear has been around for decades -- coveralls made of duck cotton, jackets with blanket liners, flannel shirts, denim, steel-toed leather boots and, of course, a helmet that meets the standards set by the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA).

Workwear Jackets and Coveralls

Duck cotton is one of the most popular fabrics for workwear because it is extremely resistant to rips and its smooth surface prevents snags. The same material is used to make tents and boat sails. Duck cotton can keep out the wind and is resistant to fire, though not flame retardant. Small sparks will not burn through the fabric.

According to the Sierra Trading Post, duck cotton is rated by its weight. The grade is determined by the weight of a 22 x 36 inch piece of fabric, subtracted from 19. Thus, a rating of 4 means the fabric sample has a weight of 15 ounces. Duck cotton rated 5 through 12 is used for work clothing. Anything higher than that is used to manufacture outdoor gear. The best work jackets and coveralls, or work bibs, are made from duck cotton. The most popular manufacturer of these is Carhartt, but Dickies and Tough Duck are also respected names.

Good outerwear should also have ribbed cuffs, which are durable and help trap heat to keep the body warm. Jackets and coveralls should also have reinforced zippers that can stand up to repeated use, and triple seams reinforced by rivets. Coveralls or overalls work best when they zip at the legs, so that workers can step out of them to cool off while still in their boots.

Insulating Fabrics

For workers toiling in winter temperatures and high wind, insulation is necessary for staying comfortable and warm on the job. This means lined gloves, jackets and hats in addition to plenty of layers. Instead of wearing one heavy shirt, for instance, workers are better off putting on two lightweight wool shirts to trap heat to the body. The right lining also helps. Some jackets are lined with synthetic fleece, which is warm and wicks away moisture. Down, synthetic quilting and flannel also make good liners for jackets.

Workers who do not wear coveralls on the job need extra protection from the cold as well. Denim and canvas pants are reinforced at the knees to handle bending, and at the waist to hold tools, but they are not especially warm. This is where quality thermal underwear comes in handy. Cotton is not a great choice, though it might be the cheapest type of long john. Instead, workers should look for wool or silk fabrics, which keep moisture out and trap heat in.

Workers can also find hard hat liners made from synthetic materials, such as fleece and nylon. Many of these products have chin straps and ear flaps for extra protection against the cold.

Finally, a good pair of gloves keeps the fingers warm and supple and prevents frostbite. Some are made from synthetic materials, such as Latex and Neoprene. However, leather is still a popular option. According to the Sierra Trading Post, full grain leather is essentially hide in its raw state, unsanded for maximum durability. This makes up the outer layer of many good gloves, with a soft, synthetic under layer for insulation.

Steel-Toed Workboots

The best workboots are also made from leather, because it is a supple and durable material that stands up to the elements. The specific job determines the appropriate footwear, but whatever the footwear, it should always fit well. High boots that come up past the ankle provide extra support for workers who are on their feet for long hours. The boot should be steel-toed, because there are plenty of heavy objects on the job that could cause broken toes.

However, if steel-toed boots are not necessary, they should be avoided, as they are very heavy. Also, the steel toe can freeze in winter temperatures, freezing the toes along with them. Outdoor work may instead require boots made from waterproof material such as rubber. There are also rubber overboots and shoes, which slide on over the footwear. Certain boots are resistant to oil, and some prevent electric shock. Workers should check with their site managers to find out which type of boot complies with government regulations.

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