Women and Personal Protective Equipment: Finding the Right Fit

personal protective equipment

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is one the most important factors in preventing injuries in workers. However, in certain industries such as constriction, women are less fortunate than men when it comes to finding gear that fits properly.

“I am a woman under 5 feet [tall] and I can tell you, there isn’t much PPE that fits me properly.” – Leah Curran, an employee with New Castle, DE-based Tri-Supply & Equipment

OSHA cites the lack of a full range of PPE sizes and types at the retail, wholesale and distributor levels – as well as employers’ limited knowledge of PPE designed for women – as some of the reasons for the difficulty women encounter with PPE.

One of the factors that may cause this issue might be the low number of women in the industries requiring PPE.According to OSHA, in 2010 about 9 percent of workers – or 818,000 – in the construction industry were women. Of those, only about 200,000 worked as laborers or in other positions at construction sites.

PPE cannot protect a worker from hazards if it does not fit. Equipment designed for men may not fit women properly due to differences in body size, height and composition. Safety boots may be one of the most difficult pieces of PPE for female workers to find. According to a 2006 publication from the Industrial Accident Prevention Association and the Ontario Women’s Directorate, a typical woman’s foot is both shorter and narrower than a typical man’s foot, so a smaller boot may be the right length but not the right width.

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