Coverall your assets

Coverall your assets

The classic coverall – perhaps better known locally as the overall – has been around for centuries. SHEQ MANAGEMENT tries this important piece of PPE on for size, finding that it has an exceptionally wide range of uses.

There is hardly one sector of industry where the appropriate clothing for the job is not required. More often than not, the need is for the protection of one’s normal clothing or for protection against contaminants which one might come into contact with.

Of course, protective clothing has been a requirement of those performing hazardous tasks for centuries. As far back as the 18th century, labourers required protective outer clothing. In the early 18th century, rural workers in England and Wales, such as shepherds, wore a “smock-frock” made from heavy linen or wool. Today, the word smock often refers to a loose overgarment worn to protect one’s clothing, for instance by a painter.

The classic overall that we know today became commonplace in the 1890s, made from tough cotton or linen. The word first appeared almost 100 years earlier though, and made reference to clothing worn on the outside of normal clothing to protect it.

But what of modern overalls/coveralls? The classic overall has made its mark – so much so that it has even evolved from being a necessary item of personal protection to one that has infused into modern popular culture … For example, students from many of the world’s higher education facilities wear different overalls to distinguish themselves from others in different faculties, or as a popular form of party dress (obviously, as students go, this is usually a particularly hazardous undertaking).

Nonetheless, the modern overall is widely available in various designs for a multitude of requirements. The basic type is the “boilersuit” (what South Africans might think of as an overall), which is loose-fitting and covers the whole body excluding the head, hands and feet.

A tighter-fitting version is the jumpsuit, which originally referred to the one-piece suits skydivers wear. However, in more recent times the basic style has been adapted to suit the needs of pilots, sportsmen (such as skiers who need protection from cold and snow and motor racers who need protection from fire and accident debris), and labourers for whom looser-fitting overalls might present a hazard.

Yet another important item of this protective clothing is the laboratory (lab) coat, also known as the white coat. A form of smock, the lab coat, is usually made from an absorbent material so that the wearer is protected from spilled chemicals. In the 1800s, medical professionals began wearing white coats as a symbol of cleanliness – its significance to those in the medical and scientific professions is such that it is widely regarded as an instantly recognisable symbol of their profession.

Of course, there are dozens of other uses for protective clothing that stem from the basic overall – such as hazchem and hazmat operations, as well as firefighting. In some instances overalls have even been developed to be disposable. The traditional overall has indeed come a long way.

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