The main purpose of overalls is to protect the wearer and their clothing from harsh elements and dangerous substances including heat, cold, chemical splashes, sparks, flames and flying debris that they could encounter on the job. Overalls keep workers dry and comfortable so that they can give their full attention to the job at hand rather than directing their attention to avoiding dangerous substances or discomfort. For occupations such as farming, fishing, sailing, construction and painting they are as essential as any tools of the trade.
Protection against the weather is often a consideration for South African workers, especially in cold inland winters. Farm workers, construction workers and mine workers are expected to be out and on the job in the early hours of the morning when temperatures are freezing. Thick, durable and waterproof clothing can keep them dry and comfortable and prevent them from falling ill. South African summers can be extremely hot so clothing which keeps workers cool and protects them from sunburn is important.
There are different types of overalls which offer various levels of protection. Overalls differ in design and can be a loose-fitting pair of pants with supporting cross-straps, often referred to a dungarees, or a full or half sleeve shirt that is worn over regular shirts, vests and trousers to protect them from damage.
Fabrics vary from insulated fabrics for warmth to breathable materials which keep workers cool in hot conditions whether they are outdoors or working in a factory. Tough cotton, linen or denim is a good choice for overalls as it washes well and is durable. Some overall fabrics are treated to make them fireproof or stain resistant.
Another function of overalls is to ensure that workers are visible in the dark or low light conditions. In this case, the overalls are equipped with reflective strips which shine when illuminated by lights.
Overalls form part of a uniform and many working sites allocate different to various teams increasing security and making it easier to track progress.