60% of employers do not provide suitable PPE for women

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60% of employers do not provide suitable PPE for women
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Peninsula Team, Peninsula Team

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Accreditation group the Considerate Constructors Scheme (CCS) has pledged to make inclusive PPE (personal protective equipment) mandatory for all its UK sites

The move is seen as a boost to ongoing efforts to provide women in the construction industry with access to properly fitted PPE. This follows a survey carried out by the Yorkshire branch of advocacy group National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC). The survey found 60% of employers do not provide PPE specifically designed for women, and 42% reported negative effects on their career because of ill-fitting PPE.

Historically, PPE was based on measurements of male military personnel from the 1950s-1970s. As women now make up approximately 16% of the construction workforce*, the PPE available “doesn’t reflect the anatomical differences between men and women”, says NAWIC.

As an accreditation scheme for construction sites, CCS’s new policy means that sites who register with them must follow a checklist of working practices to qualify. Inclusive PPE is now part of that checklist, so companies who fail to provide it risk losing the accreditation.

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CCS head of assurance and challenge Philip Sayer said:

“The Considerate Constructors Scheme is committed to improving inclusivity and diversity in the construction industry, and helping to address its skills gap. Improving access for women in the industry is integral to this, and we are delighted to play our part by promoting the provision of female-specific PPE on sites that sign up to our Code of Considerate Practice.”

NAWIC welcomed the news, pointing out that most women have stories about how poorly-fitting PPE has impacted their ability to work. Katy Robinson, Senior Project Manager at East Riding of Yorkshire Council and NAWIC Yorkshire Campaign Manage, has spoken in the past about having to wear “clown boots” that were wide, uncomfortable and caused blisters for her, as well as trousers which were the correct length but not the right size, being too baggy and unsafe at the calf but tight and unable to button or zip up at the waist.

She spoke further on the CCS’ decision:

“What a fantastic start to the year with the Considerate Constructors Scheme mandating the provision for women’s PPE on all of their 4,600+ annual registered sites.

“I’m certain that this move will encourage other industry health and safety accreditations to do the same. I’m looking forward to continuing working with a number of accreditations to join the movement. Well-fitting PPE shouldn’t be seen as best practice, it should be the minimum standard. We won’t give up until that is the case.”

NAWIC aren’t the only group campaigning on this issue. The Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB) has also advocated for the industry to improve safety equipment for women.

CIOB President, Sandi Rhys Jones launched the #PPEthatfits campaign last year calling for better provision of inclusive PPE. She said:

“When the decision was taken in the summer of 2023 to hold a workshop to exchange experience and knowledge around provision of properly fitting PPE, none of us in the CIOB Working Group expected the topic to take off in the way it did.

“It has been truly eye-opening to identify the scale of the need, and to see an ever-expanding network of committed individuals and companies, here and around the world.

“The commitment from Considerate Constructors to support mandatory provision is a wonderful example of how collaborative working, supported by facts, can result in practical outcomes that will benefit the sector as a whole.”

NAWIC’s survey revealed there are still many barriers for employers providing women’s PPE in the workplace, as some noted there was “less inclination for companies to make female-specific equipment” due to a smaller percentage of women in the workforce. Others said one of the biggest barriers was “an assumption that we all fit in the same size clothing”.

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