Although personal protective equipment (PPE) manufacturers have come a long way with the options they are providing for women in safety sensitive jobs, they still have a long way to go. Additionally, employers are not always making it easy for women to obtain the options that do exist. In many cases, employers may not be aware of the issues many women face with their PPE. In a 2016 survey done in the United Kingdom by a collaborative of several women’s organizations such as Women’s Engineering Society, they found the following reasons for women’s unhappiness with the fit of their PPE.
1. It is not properly proportioned. Most PPE is designed for the average male worker. Safety and comfort issues can result if women have improperly fitting equipment. The biggest offenders were hard hats, coveralls and gloves. However, all PPE should be evaluated. Ear plugs for example, may be too big for some women’s ear canals, so a wide range of sizes should be offered.
2. They are not able to try on and/or get a better size indication to ensure a proper fit before they ordered.
3. Not enough options are provided at their workplace. If options aren’t easy to obtain, it can make the employee feel like a nuisance.
4. During pregnancy, many women, chose to forgo their safety equipment due to improper fit. This resulted in them taking an earlier maternity leave or they had to curtail their normal duties and/or change their role up to their maternity leave.
5. During menopause, PPE clothing with excessive fabric was hard to wear for women who had hot flashes.
What can be done?
1. Ensure all employees have a voice in their PPE choices and that they have an environment where they feel safe to do so.
2. Offer lots of options and do it consistently. Maintain good communications with your suppliers.
3. Offer appropriate facilities for trying on PPE and/or speak with manufacturers to get a good handle on sizing.
4. Consider pregnancy and menopause when providing PPE for workers.
PPE is the last line of defense, if workers do not have options that are readily available, they will either not wear their equipment or they will make changes to existing equipment that do not comply with safety specifications. This could increase the number of injuries. Women also reported that they felt less confident in ill fitting PPE. As one worker stated, “It is difficult to supervise contractors when your PPE doesn’t exactly make you look competent.”