Second-Class Protection: The Lack of PPE for Women

Women are disadvantaged when it comes to PPE, with most PPE designed for men’s or unisex use.

Personal protective equipment (PPE) is a crucial source of protection for workers to minimize the risk of workplace injuries. It’s essential that workers have properly fitting PPE in order to stay protected against these risks. However, women are facing serious disadvantages when it comes to PPE because of the lack of protective equipment designed specifically for females.

The reasoning is that PPE and clothing are often designed for the average-sized male or come in unisex sizing. However, protective equipment designed for men doesn’t always fit women correctly because of their differences in body size and composition. The lack of PPE for women is also attributed to the low number of women in industries that require PPE, such as construction.

A recent article in Safety and Health Magazine stated that “according to OSHA, in 2010 about 9 percent of workers – or 818,000 – in the construction industry were women. Of those, only about 200,000 worked as laborers or in other positions at construction sites.” While the number of women in industries such as construction may be lower, they still require equal protection including access to properly sized PPE.

Hard hats are one of the most difficult PPE items for women to find in their size.

Women face difficulties finding their size in a variety of PPE, including fall-arrest harnesses, hard hats, gloves, as well as safety boots. Safety boots are actually one of the most challenging pieces of PPE for women, as there is a common belief that women should wear men’s boots that are two sizes smaller. This raises a major issue because while the length of the men’s boot might be appropriate, the width of the boot is usually too large as women have narrower feet than men. This can be very dangerous in the workplace because ill-fitting shoes can lead to slips, trips and falls, which as we know is one of the most common workplace hazards.

Employers who provide PPE must address this issue facing their female workers and can combat the lack of PPE for women by following some safety tips below.

5 Tips for Ensuring Proper Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) for Women:

1)     Research manufacturers, wholesalers and distributors who provide PPE  
        designed specifically for women and not just unisex sizing.
2)     Order a selection of PPE in both men and women’s sizing with 3 different  
        sizes for each gender.
3)     Ensure female workers try on more than one size of PPE to select the best-fit, 
        even if the design is gender-specific. The overall combination of their body 
        dimensions is what actually determines their size.
4)     Properly test unisex PPE before allowing female workers to use it. For example, 
        ensure gloves are the right size for the employee and aren’t too big.
5)     Add a chin strap to hard hats or caps to fit women better and ensure they stay 
        secure.

The use of PPE is a necessity in every industry, especially when workers are dealing with hazardous chemicals or equipment. It is imperative that all employees are well-educated on PPE and provided the right PPE to protect them. Employers have a responsibility to ensure workers are safe and all employees have the right to feel safe in their jobs, no matter their gender.

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