July 18, 2023
Personal protective equipment (PPE) plays a key role in workplace safety, protecting workers from injuries and illnesses. The use of PPE is governed by the Personal Protective Equipment at Work (Amendment) Regulations 2022, which outline comprehensive guidelines for the provision and maintenance of PPE by employers.
These regulations stipulate that employers must ensure the provision of suitable PPE to their workers, free of charge. The PPE must be appropriate for the type of work being carried out and must be properly maintained and replaced when necessary to ensure maximum effectiveness.
The progress made by women working in fields where personal protective equipment (PPE) is a requirement is notable. Various sectors including construction, utilities, energy, and engineering have all taken significant strides towards attracting more women to roles. Nevertheless, the present-day UK workforce still lacks women, highlighting the need to pay close attention to their unique requirements.
Despite progress, women continue to face challenges when it comes to Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and clothing. Shockingly, a mere 29% of surveyed women wore PPE designed specifically for their sex, according to a 2016 survey conducted by several prominent organisations. Even more concerning, 57% of women said that ill-fitting PPE actually impeded their ability to perform their job.
Many employers believe that providing women with smaller sizes of PPE is enough, but this is not the case. Women aren't merely smaller versions of men. Even PPE labelled as 'unisex' is most often designed with a European man's physique in mind, resulting in a poor fit for women.
It’s no secret that for far too long, workwear industries have designed clothing predominantly for men, leaving women to make do with ill-fitting and inadequate garments. In the realm of protective gear, this not only exposes women to potential injury but also creates a significant liability for businesses who have a legal obligation to provide safe and suitable workwear for all employees.
Ill-fitting gloves can cause problems with gripping, slipping, or catching. Wearing the wrong shoes can significantly increase the risk of tripping while also causing foot deformities, backache, and other physical issues. Safety harnesses designed for men can rub against the skin or fail to accommodate the different sizes of thighs and hips in women. Jackets can be too long. Earplugs can present difficulties for those with narrower ear canals, who struggle to roll typical plugs small enough to fit.
Furthermore, high visibility clothing, a near-essential part of PPE, is often tailored for men, as indicated by zips on the side that’s opposite to that of women's clothing.
As the number of women joining fields that were historically male-dominated increases, businesses need to take necessary measures to ensure their safety and wellbeing. It’s no longer acceptable to apply a "one size fits all" approach when it comes to work attire which fails to recognise the differences in the needs of individuals.
In recent years, the construction and engineering industries have been actively working towards reducing job segregation and promoting diversity. As a result, we’ve witnessed more and more women entering these fields. However, this positive progress towards equality is threatened by a major obstacle - lack of access to proper PPE.
Employers should be ensuring their suppliers have carried out a thorough assessment of the suitability of their equipment for both sexes. When ordering, they should also be ordering an adequate range of sizes for both men and women.
To ensure the best possible fit for their employees, businesses must give opportunity for them to try on several PPE sizes and types before issuing the equipment.
But it isn't enough for employers to simply provide the necessary PPE; they should also have a formal system in place to receive feedback on its effectiveness. Women should feel comfortable reporting any concerns and be confident that their feedback will be heard.
By Millie Fuller
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