42% of female workers wear ‘ill-fitting’ PPE

  • Equality & Diversity
a woman in PPE working
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Peninsula Team, Peninsula Team

(Last updated )

A survey of over 1,500 female workers by the Women’s Engineering Society (WES) has published its findings after a six-month consultation in 2023-24.

The results, analysed by independent research organisation Rocket Science, show women’s calls for safe and effective Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) are being ignored in the workplace. Consequentially, dangerous working practices have arisen, as well as a lack of equality between male and female workers.

WES’ first survey, conducted in 2009, came to similar conclusions. PPE is still based on male body types as a default: 60% of men report comfortable or perfect fitting PPE, and only 26% of women say the same.

This means women are either have to wear ill-fitting clothing and equipment, risking their health and safety, or potentially give up working altogether. Some respondents noted the climbing harnesses, lifejackets, or air systems they use do not work for their bodies, which increases their personal risk when they use them for work.

HSE guidance advises against making modifications to PPE, as it may compromise its ability to function. Despite this, 42% of women reported that PPE is often too big to fit correctly, forcing them to modify it to fit them.

A common example is trousers, which are more often than not too long for women’s legs. Tucking the overlong trousers into boots compromises the waterproof design, and hinders the PPE’s ability to prevent water-borne disease, or other risks to women’s safety.

WES intends to work to change these practices by measuring thousands of women to develop proper-fitting PPE and engage with manufacturers and government to produce safe and effective PPE for all.

A key finding of the survey is a lack of maternity PPE: 61% of pregnant women are not provided with correct items to allow them to work safely.

There is also no provision for PPE to take into account bodily changes due to periods or the menopause, or medical conditions such as stomas or limb differences. This creates barriers for people to work.

Other respondents state they had to give up working in certain areas, such as workshops, due to a lack of fitting gloves, hats or eye protection. It is clear from the results that the differing needs of women to men are not being considered, and often clothes are not being made to the same safety standards as men’s.

When these challenges and their effects are raised with colleagues or managers, little is done to facilitate women’s access to better fitting PPE. More than half of the women who raised concerns reported nothing changed, compared to just 9% who said their concerns were fully addressed.

Other responses included employers did not acknowledge their concerns, acknowledged their concerns but did nothing, or, in some cases, ridiculed women for raising these concerns.

Overall, the survey showed that women have very little choice when it came to PPE: they either have to give up work or risk working using unsafe equipment.

WES intends to change this and hopes that by measuring as many women as possible they will be able to influence manufacturers to make changes, as well as lobby government to make access to fit-for-purpose PPE a right within employment legislation.

Visit BrAInbox today where you can find answers to questions like Do I need to provide personal protective equipment (PPE) to agency workers?


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