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How women are put in danger by the equipment that’s meant to protect them

08 March 2024

This International Women’s Day, invest in women by joining the campaign for well-fitting personal protective equipment (PPE) for all.

How women are put in danger by the equipment that’s meant to protect them
Ill-fitting hi-vis clothing can cause discomfort and difficulty when working - Katy shows the difference in fit.

Personal protective equipment is:

  • the safety boots that protect your feet from being injured by falling objects
  • the high visibility (hi-vis) clothing that ensures you can be seen by plant operators
  • the gloves that protect your hands from chemical burns

But PPE is also:

  • the harnesses that don’t fasten up well enough, causing the user to suffer suspension trauma when a fall occurs
  • the safety boots that are too wide, causing an increased risk of slips, trips, and falls
  • the hi-vis clothing that limits the range of motion, causing discomfort and difficulty when working

International Women’s Day

The theme for International Women’s Day 2024 is ‘Invest in women: accelerate progress’.

Wondering what investing in women looks like?

Read our blog to find out

Why aren’t we taking PPE personally?

There’s widespread inequality in the PPE that the construction industry provides.

Minority groups are put in danger due to the very equipment that’s designed to protect them.

Except it’s not actually designed to protect them.

PPE design is based on measurement data from military personnel in the 1950s and 1970s.

It’s outdated and inaccurate, failing to take into consideration the minority groups.

It’s also unlikely that military personnel from 50-70 years ago have the same measurements and proportions as the average construction worker in 2024.

In recent years, there have been significant improvements in the development of PPE, with the introduction of:

  • a wider variety of sizes
  • options for women (yes, women’s PPE exists)
  • options for maternity wear (yes, maternity wear PPE exists)
  • options for modesty wear (yes, modesty wear PPE exists)

However, 59.6% of employers in the construction industry don’t provide women’s specific PPE, as 2023 research done by the National Association of Women in Construction Yorkshire Region (NAWIC Yorkshire) found.

Katy shows the comparison of ill-fitting and well-fitting trousers.
Katy shows the comparison of ill-fitting and well-fitting trousers.

The impact of ill-fitting PPE on health and safety

The research also uncovered evidence that ill-fitting PPE for women has several impacts on health and safety.

Ill-fitting safety boots were linked to an increased occurrence of slips, trips, and falls. They were also linked to long-term health issues like tendonitis and morton’s neuroma.

Issues with ill-fitting hi-vis clothing were also found – being oversized in some areas, and undersized in others, leads to issues relating to entanglement, exposure to the elements and a reduced range of movement.

The research also highlighted that 42% of women had experiences with PPE which had negatively impacted their careers.

Examples of these experiences include:

  • making the user feel unprofessional;
  • making site work more difficult and uncomfortable; and
  • making users not want to work in the construction industry.

Providing the whole workforce with well-fitting PPE not only makes everyone safer, but it also makes the industry more inclusive, too.

NAWIC Yorkshire’s PPE campaign

NAWIC Yorkshire is running a campaign to address the widespread inequalities in the PPE provided across the construction industry and beyond.

By working with professional bodies, construction frameworks, and industry associations, NAWIC Yorkshire is raising awareness of the impact of ill-fitting PPE and highlighting the new, inclusive products available.

NAWIC Yorkshire successfully campaigned for the Considerate Constructors Scheme to mandate the provision of women’s PPE across all of their registered activities from 1 January 2024.

The ultimate goal of the campaign is for legally binding regulations to be amended to include the requirement for well-fitting, inclusive PPE for all.

We need to keep the conversations flowing about experiences with PPE, and what we can do to be a safer and more inclusive industry.

We need men and women on board.

Even if you haven’t experienced ill-fitting PPE, you can speak up for others – your voice matters.

Well-fitting PPE shouldn’t be seen as best practice, it should be the minimum standard.

We won’t give up until that’s the case.

  • Katy Robinson, senior project manager at East Riding of Yorkshire Council