Ladies day - Tailor made PPE for women

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Women's Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

Tailor made PPE for the female form

With soaring numbers of women pursuing industrial and technical careers, leading workwear manufacturers are beginning to wake up to this niche in the market by producing a wide range of industrial clothing that is specifically tailored towards the female form.

Some of the most popular occupations that are experiencing an influx of women include gardening, carpentry and joinery, painting, tiling and mechatronics but many female employees are forced to “make do” and endure ill-fitting men’s clothing. However, ill-fitting personal protective equipment does not protect at all. Moreover, it poses an unnecessary risk to the health and safety of the women wearing it.

The Women’s Engineering Society (WES) recently held a survey of its members’ experiences of PPE and the results were surprising to say the least. Only 8% of women wore PPE designed for women, and of the women who wore PPE designed for men, 60% described it as uncomfortable or very uncomfortable.

For instance, on average, a woman’s foot is shorter and narrower than a man’s and the average woman’s body is shorter in length, so men’s overalls tend to be too long in the torso. Her shoulders are narrower, which makes the sleeves too long, and women are usually wider at the hip. A woman’s face is smaller than a man’s, so helmets and goggles, respiratory and even hearing protection can also be compromised.

Gloves are also a major problem area - a woman’s hands are smaller – she has shorter, narrower fingers and a smaller palm circumference – so even a man’s small size glove often does not fit.

For years, women appear to have been muddling along by wearing two pairs of gloves, taping gloves at the wrist or wearing multiple pairs of socks to fit into the shoes. However, these makeshift remedies often compromise the safety of the item, for example if a woman wears boots too large for her, then her toes will not be protected by the steel cap, and if there are gaps when wearing goggles, then debris can still get into her eyes.

The entrance of women into male-dominated occupations has only recently made PPE for women more available. A transitional period has begun, and with it an emphasis on a wider range of sizes, more feminine cuts, and a larger variety of foot protection. And yet, there is still much to be done when it comes to making proper fitting PPE available to women.

Many US and European organisations are way ahead of the UK in addressing these issues, and women’s workwear is a boom industry for them. The UK however is now waking up to this fact and forward thinking workwear suppliers and manufacturers are now listening to the needs of their customers, and employers are beginning to realise that women cannot be expected to cope with PPE designed for men.

So watch this space ladies, a wider choice of workwear and safety products is on the way, and no longer will safety be compromised.