I’m sure it says something deep and meaningful about me that it’s taken me this long to get around to one of the most important tools out there: Protective gear.
Partly because I (like most people) tend to be a little lax about using protective gear. And partly because the protective gear I do use I use so automatically I don’t think about it enough to notice it as a thing.
I always use hearing protection if I’m doing something loud or working in a loud environment. Because I like to hear things and want to keep hearing things, and because (unlike most other protective gear and the hazards you are protected against) hearing loss is a gradual thing. You (probably) won’t notice any single incident that makes you go deaf. It’ll just be a million little bangs and screeches gradually wearing away your ability to hear quiet or high notes. I prefer Howard Leight Laser Lite Foam Earplugs with a cord. They’re very comfortable, easy to use, strong enough to be useful, and the cord makes them easy to pull out of my deep ears with my clumsy fingers. And easy to hang around my neck when I’m between loud noises.
I often wear safety glasses. Certainly if I’m doing anything with any power tool that is not a drill, or working with metal at all. Ever since I was 13 and got a speck of steel wire embedded in my eye….
I wear gloves if I’m working with nasty chemicals. My hands end up in my mouth and eyes a lot. The gloves keep the scary things out of my mouth and eyes both by keeping them off the skin of my hands and by keeping my fingers out of my mouth and eyes. Read the label of the stuff you’re using; there are a surprising number of things around the house and shop that while they won’t immediately burn your skin, are readily absorbed through the skin…
I seldom wear a respirator; I just don’t use anything that heinous very often. But I am always very careful to work in a well-ventilated area, and am always mindful of where the fumes are going, ever since I got too close while I was making soap and scarred my throat.
Steel Toes, back brace, etc, etc…they exist. Use them if you’re doing things that are likely to make them useful. If I’m lifting all day I’ll wear a back belt. Because (like with the hearing) I won’t notice the strain until after; like, the next day when I can’t move. And I occasionally wear an actual construction helmet at work; usually when I’m working up high.
With any safety gear, there will be times where the safety gear is getting in the way of doing the work. On a few occasions the safety gear getting in the way has actually made me feel less safe. When that happens, you need to assess your risks very carefully and decide what is best. Sometimes I do take the gloves off and let the chemicals touch my skin, so I can feel the surface of what I’m trying to clean and make sure it’s really clean. Then I immediately wash thoroughly and put on fresh gloves. If I’m fixing a loud machine I might take out an earplug for a moment to see if the subtle squeak is still there on top of the roar. You have to use your judgment and do the safest thing that actually works.
So: You don’t have to protect all the parts of your body. Only the ones you want to keep.