As a vehicle recycling business, have you considered what personal protective equipment (PPE) you should be providing for your employees? Does one size really fit all? Debbie Janson, Senior Lecturer of Engineering Management at the University of Bath, provides us with her opinion.
Today’s workforce is becoming increasingly diverse. One aspect of this is the growing number of women entering professions traditionally dominated by men, with most industries actively promoting this evolution.
However, once women enter these professions, their experience varies. Some are welcomed, supported and made to feel like they belong, feel happy and progress well. Others, not so much. Micro-aggressions frequent their working lives; lack of toilet facilities, being seen as the administrator, and lack of properly fitting PPE are just a few examples. PPE provision for women is an area where not only can women feel disadvantaged, in practical terms, their safety can also be compromised.
By law, all employers have a responsibility to provide PPE that is fit for purpose. However, if it doesn’t fit, is it really fit for purpose? For example, most safety footwear is designed for men and around a man’s foot shape. The range available for women is a fraction of that available for men, with some styles being marketed as “unisex” even though women’s and men’s foot shapes have been shown to be different.
Additionally, most workwear is developed for men, and even when seemingly available for women, it is simply rebadged menswear—the result for women being extremely ill-fitting garments and modifications aplenty. Even the lowly hi-vis vest – not often a problem for men, is nearly always a problem for women; our shapes are different, so why isn’t the PPE?
Okay, so these industries have always been male-dominated, so it stands to reason that it will take some time for availability to catch up. But, even in industries such as healthcare, where women make up around 75-80% of the workforce, PPE is still designed around men’s anthropometrics. For example, face-fitted respirators and masks are based on the facial dimensions of the average western man.
Many men suffer with fit problems with their PPE too. In a survey in 2019, 60% of women reported that their safety footwear was less comfortable than their regular footwear, but so did 45% of men. Average sizing simply doesn’t suit a large proportion of the workforce, and when considering safety footwear, if it’s ill-fitting, it causes blisters, pain and muscular-skeletal disorders. PPE is the last line of defence, and wearing it should not be causing additional problems for its wearer. This goes for visitors too! Does your organisation cater for your diverse range of visitors? What impression does it leave for the women who come for interviews, inspections, sales or customer visits?
So, what is the answer?
Organisations need to be aware that one size simply doesn’t fit all. The problem isn’t limited to women, it’s applicable across the board, but it certainly does disadvantage women on a larger scale. It’s vital when selecting PPE to do the research and find those manufacturers that offer an appropriate range of sizes. To be fit for purpose, PPE really does need to fit and be tolerable. Yes, this may cost a bit more, but surely this is worth it to ensure not only safety but also that all of your employees feel like they are welcome, supported and belong in the workforce.