Safety in the workplace is an important issue for women and providing quality personal protection equipment (PPE) can be a crucial factor in keeping them safe and a productive employee.
Investing in PPE such as gloves, coveralls and boots that are comfortable to wear, fit women properly, and offer adequate protection is essential. Unfortunately, many companies fail in their efforts to provide quality PPE for women workers or don’t take women’s needs into consideration when selecting or providing workwear and gear required to perform their duties.
According to a recent report by the CSA – 58% of women use PPE that is the wrong size at least some of the time.
In this blog post we’ll discuss why investing in high-quality protective gear specifically designed for women is so critical and how it can help keep female employees safe on the job. Read on to learn more!
According to a recent report by the CSA – 58% of women use PPE that is the wrong size at least some of the time
Employers are failing the women in their ranks when it comes to personal protective equipment (PPE), according to a new report from the CSA group.
Many women are struggling to find gear that fits, using things like duct tape to get through the day, said Jennifer Teague, Vice-President of Standards, Research and Planning at CSA Group.
They’re modifying harnesses, designed for their male counterparts, to avoid creating pressure points on their torso, she said. “That becomes a real concern to employers,” said Teague. “All PPE is certified to a standard and when that PPE is modified, you’re now compromising the certification of that product.”
The issue is so rampant that just six per cent of Canadian women say the PPE they wear is designed for them, according to Canadian women’s experiences with personal protective equipment in the workplace.
The low number didn’t shock Teague, but she was pleasantly surprised by the willingness of women to speak up about the issue, as reported by the 3,000 respondents who were surveyed. “Women are not just scaled-down versions of men,” said Teague. “It’s not necessarily acceptable to just buy smaller sizes of the same PPE because it doesn’t necessarily fit.”
A ‘frustrating’ experience the stats tell is a troubling story: more than one-third of respondents (women) said the PPE they use are designed for men, and 85 per cent said they have been hampered at work as a result.
About half said they need to adjust the gear every time they put it on, or at least once per shift. “It affects a lot of women, women who are really passionate about the way their PPE fits,” she said. “The way they feel when they wear it, how safe they feel when they wear it. how frustrating it can be when you’re trying to do a job and it doesn’t fit properly.”
The report found that women: use PPE that is the wrong size at least some of the time (58 per cent), don’t wear all the required PPE at work because of fit issues (28 per cent) or use a workaround to make their PPE fit (38 per cent).
Women are also paying for their own gear, out of pocket, to remain comfortable and feel safe in the workplace, the research found. “That creates an equity issue, if you have women saying ‘Ok, I want PPE that fits me better and so I’d rather just go buy it myself than use the one that my employer is providing’” states Teague.
“You shouldn’t have one sector of your workforce having to go out and buy their own because what you’re giving them doesn’t fit.”
Advice for organizations and safety professionals is to define the problem, said Teague. Now that the scope of the problem is known, steps need to be taken to address it by asking questions. “If you’re a workplace, and you’re purchasing PPE for your employees, then think as you’re sourcing those products you need,” she said. “Ask those manufacturers if they have PPE designed specifically for women, not just smaller sizes.” ~ source OHSCanada.com, November 16, 2022
Workwear challenges for women in the trades
Wearing proper protection equipment (PPE) such as gloves, coveralls, boots, and hardhats can be invaluable for women. From the industrial workplace to construction sites, proper fitting PPE ensures that women are better protected against potential dangers including physical injuries because of PPE that doesn’t fit.
Gloves that are properly fitted for women provide additional “handling” protection from chemicals, fire hazards, sharp objects, and other potentially hazardous materials they may come in contact with.
Women wearing men’s work boots also poses a major risk for injuries regarding falls and slips, sprains, cuts, burns, and more. Recent studies in Canada indicate that women are more likely to be at risk as they are often left with no choice but to wear men’s work boots that don’t fit. It’s not poorly defined boots, they are designed just fine… for men’s feet! The problem with putting g tea on women is that they are designed using the male foot last, which has features unique to men’s feet including flexion point which makes a big difference for comfort and protection from injury.
Similarly, coveralls act like a suit of armor by providing maximum overall coverage of body parts ensuring that each area is kept safe from harm. Jodi Huettner, the founder of Helga Wear in Vancouver, BC knows all to well the struggles of finding proper PPE for women. “Having spent hundreds of hours wearing the smaller sizes of standard male-bodied safety garments, I found that I was far from safe.” states Huettner.
“While designing and developing women’s safety coveralls, I uncovered surprising hidden barriers for women in trades and active STEM, for example why PPE never seems to fit women quite right.”
“Today my focus is on advocating for inclusive personal protective equipment standards, because where safety is concerned, we need to acknowledge the known body statistics for women’s proportions and stop treating them as scaled down from men’s.”
Helga Wear has developed a coverall for the women of Seaspan that meets safety requirements, offers a fit proportioned for a woman’s body, has zippered legs to facilitate going to the washroom, as well as other features such as adjustable collar widths, elasticated waists, and knee pad pockets. In fact, Seaspan was so impressed with Helga Wear, they invested in the company. Ultimately, PPE benefits women in the workplace if it fits their body. It’s that simple!
A priority for employers to invest in quality PPE that is comfortable and fit women properly
Providing fitting and comfortable protective equipment to employees, especially women, should be among an employer’s top priorities.
Not only does investing in quality personal protective equipment (PPE) ensure a safer working environment, but it also fosters trust by recognizing the diversity of body types on-site and showing that an employer is devoted to putting their workers’ safety first.
Unfortunately, many manufacturers do not recognize the importance of properly fitting PPE for women, which can prevent women from reaching their maximum potential when working in hazardous or dangerous conditions such as construction or certain industry sectors.
Employers must understand that investing in the correct PPE tailored for the female workforce is not only beneficial for safety and well-being, but also demonstrates a commitment to equal opportunity for all employees in a workplace.
How employers can source and select the right PPE for female employees
Understanding that women come in different shapes and sizes is essential in finding proper-fitting PPE. It is also important to consider factors such as type of work, humidity levels, local weather conditions, and type of environment amongst others when sourcing and buying the appropriate PPE for female employees.
Employers need to thoroughly research reliable suppliers who can provide PPE for female employees, while also ensuring these items are compliant with relevant regulations in each province or territory as well as federally across Canada.
Doing so will enable them to source and select the right PPE for female employees effectively, while creating a safe working environment free of risk or harm.
Injuries in the workforce due to inadequate or unavailable personal protective equipment (PPE)
According to recent reports from the Canadian Center for Occupational Health and Safety, injuries in the workforce due to inadequate or unavailable personal protective equipment (PPE) have been on the rise, particularly among female employees and employers need to take notice.
Protecting employees with necessary safety measures is key to reducing injuries and improving workplace conditions. This can mean providing all necessary personal protective equipment and other gear appropriate to the job being performed, as well as creating effective procedures that guarantee everyone’s safety is a priority. Those in the workforce who are improperly fitted with PPE risk not only injury to themselves, but also those around them.
Sadly, data shows that this is not always the case – employers need to be aware of the potential risks involved and ensure their regulations are up to date in order to ensure all injuries don’t take place on their watch.
Why educating employers and companies through initiatives can support and provide safe PPE for women workers
Ensuring the safety, comfortability, and quality of PPE for women workers needs to become a major priority for employers. Doing so is essential in protecting them from any potential hazards or risks that come with their job.
Educating employers and companies on the importance of providing proper PPE for women workers is an essential step moving forward and one that has been taken to task by Sally Morse of Spectra Supply in Calgary, AB.
Introducing a new initiative that brings attention to the risks to women in the workforce associated with the use of improperly fitting PPE, Sally has become an invaluable partner to several companies in Alberta by offering and providing an education-focused initiative that brings awareness to the disproportionate risks posed by inappropriate PPE wear.
Sally states that “By creating not only awareness of this issue with improper fitting PPE, but my goal is also to work with as many companies as I can to create action steps to help solve this problem. There are choices for proper fitting PPE and more products are being developed all the time. The days of shrink it and pink it need to stop. As employers and manufacturers, we need to do better. As a female safety supply company owner and a glove manufacturer, it is my responsibility to be part of the solution and not reinforce the problem“.
As a resource or if you require assistance on conducting an Inclusive PPE Initiative for your company, please feel free to reach out to Sally Morse at Spectra Supply. Spectra provides a list of safety gear that fits different body types including over 17 brands just for women.