The Importance of Providing PPE Made for Women

If the glove doesn’t fit, it may be more hazard than help.


Here are three indisputable facts about personal protective equipment (PPE): 

  1. To function as intended, PPE needs to fit properly. 

  2. Most PPE is designed for men. 
  3. Women’s bodies typically differ from men’s in shape and size. 

Women constitute only about 9 percent of the construction workforce, and women in field jobs are even fewer and further between. But as companies focus on recruiting more workers to the industry, including more women, they need to ensure they’re doing everything possible to keep all workers safe. 

It’s generally the employer’s responsibility to provide appropriate PPE. But not all PPE is appropriate for all bodies. 

Equipment such as gloves and hard hats from standard manufacturers are often too large or otherwise not proportioned well for women, and that’s a problem. Oversized gloves can reduce dexterity and cause safety issues if glove fingers bunch up. Safety boots that are too big — or too wide, as is often the case for women — can turn into tripping hazards. Safety glasses that are too wide can allow debris into the eye. A fall arrest harness that doesn’t fit properly can increase the risk of suspension trauma, aka “harness hang syndrome,” according to an article published in Safety+Health magazine.

Ill-fitting PPE may fail women for another reason: If it interferes with their ability to do their job, they may not wear it. Trying to alter the equipment to make it fit can render it ineffective. 

Some progress is being made. CPWR, The Center for Construction Research and Training, has compiled a list of PPE brands and products made to fit women. Online store Safety Girl has steel-toe boots, safety glasses and other items designed with women in mind.

Meanwhile, OSHA has this important guidance for women: “Women should make a point to test employer provided PPE, and if the provided PPE is uncomfortable, or not suitable for the worker (e.g., improperly fitting or damaged from wear or defect) they should report this condition to their employer for a suitable replacement.”

Companies should do their part by purchasing PPE in a range of sizes suitable for women. Making PPE that fits available to all workers sends a message that your company is serious about keeping its workers safe. 

Donna Puglisi is a communications and marketing professional specializing in the construction industry.

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