Personal protective equipment is designed to keep us safe, but growing evidence shows that for women it can do just the opposite. This isn’t because they are careless, or choose not to wear it. In many cases it is because the PPE they are wearing doesn’t fit properly and leads to accidents or injuries. Consider the following women and their personal PPE plights.
Jane works in a shop and is required to wear goggles while working. She grabs a pair out of the safety room that were purchased to fit the average man she works with. The goggles are too wide for her narrow female face and leave gaps at the sides. While operating her machine, debris goes flying and the goggles fail to keep it out of her eyes.
Martha lives in a rural area and has no local access to women’s work boots, so she buys some men’s boots and makes do with the extra width and weight. She often finds herself tripping, and has nearly fallen off the ladder several times. On top of that, her feet slip inside the boots and this causes blisters and makes the soles of her feet burn every day.
Sherry builds landscape ponds and spends much of her day digging, so she wears heavy leather gloves. They keep the blisters and callouses from forming so fast, but she uses a whole roll of duct tape each week, just to keep her gloves from falling off while she digs.
These women may not be real, but their issues with work gear are, according to a report by the Ontario Women’s Directorate and Industrial Accident Prevention Association, and something more needs to be done about it. The International Safety Equipment Association has been working for years to increase awareness and action on this little-known danger to workers in many industries, with great success.
But there is still much to be done. Only a decade ago it was difficult, if not impossible, to find women’s work boots in many locations. Now quality work shoe stores stock many styles and brands of women’s work shoes and boots. ISEA says that we still need more, though. More stores that stock PPE for women, and more manufacturers making dedicated women’s equipment lines that take into account more than just their smaller size, but their smaller dimensions all around too.
Employers can do their part too. Keep your female employees as safe as the boys by working with PPE suppliers who make equipment designed for women. ISEA has a list available for download of current female-friendly PPE manufacturers and their specialties. Remember too that it is important to let staff know when any PPE isn’t doing its job the way it should, and to report it if that happens. The only way PPE works is if it is being used right in the first place.
—Danielle Darling for Safety Reboot