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More than half of women say PPE prevents them doing their job

The unisex approach applied by most manufacturers of personal protective equipment (PPE) means it is unsuitable and uncomfortable for many female workers, according to a report published today by the TUC.


 The UK’s national trade union centre has called on employers to avoid PPE suppliers that do not provide a range of sizes for both sexes, after only three in ten women (29%) told a 2016 survey that the PPE they wear at work has been specifically designed for them. 
The report, Personal Protective Equipment and Women: guidance for workplace representatives, says that most PPE is designed to fit the sizes and characteristics of male populations from Europe and the US. As a result most women - and also many men - who do not fit this profile, struggle to find suitable PPE.
For example, the use of a “standard” US male face shape in the production of respiratory protective equipment means it does not fit most women, as well as men from black and minority ethnic groups or with facial hair, TUC said.  
It also highlighted other items of PPE that can increase risk from injury if it is ill-fitting. The wrong shoes or overalls can cause trips, for instance, while unsuitable gloves can lead to problems gripping, and safety harnesses, belts and body armour can rub against the skin if they do not accommodate breasts and female hips.
The findings in the report are based on 2,655 responses to a TUC survey and 3,086 responses to a joint survey carried out by trade union Prospect and the Women’s Engineering Society. Those who responded worked in various sectors, including emergency services, retail and manufacturing, engineering and scientific research. 
More than half (57%) of the women that took part in the study said their PPE sometimes or significantly hampered their work. The problem was worst in the emergency services, where only 5% said their PPE did not prevent them carrying out their job safely.  
More than two in five (41%) women said that the protective trousers they had been given were inappropriate, while 35% found their overalls unsuitable for carrying out work duties. 
The survey also showed that half of females that had been pregnant at work had either cut down on their normal duties or had changed roles prior to going on maternity leave because their employers had failed to give them suitable PPE. “Many employers are reluctant to buy appropriate PPE at each stage of the pregnancy even if it is available (and often it is not),” the report claims. 
In light of these findings, the TUC’s guidance recommends that employers ensure their suppliers have properly assessed the appropriateness of their equipment for women, and that they work with trade bodies to pressure manufacturers and suppliers to provide a full range of PPE. It also advised female workers to try on several sizes or types of PPE before it is issued to ensure a good fit.  
TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady, said: “I’m shocked that so many women – even those working in frontline emergency services – do not have the right protective clothing to do their jobs safely.”


Keeley Downey was the former assistant editor of IOSH Magazine. Previously she was editor of Biofuels International, Bioenergy Insight and Tank Cleaning Magazine


  • This does not surprise me at

    Permalink Submitted by S J Shaw on 7 August 2017 - 12:23 pm

    This does not surprise me at all. How many times have I seem companies with a policy of buying one style of PPE to save money so that instead of one style suits all, on style cripples all. My husband works in the police and was in armed response. They weren't issued with their out bullet proof vests when they manned the armed car, but they has two vests that were in the car for all the drivers to use size XXL. When he put it on and sat down in the vehicle in a hurry it used to smash into his chin.

  • I totally agree with the

    Permalink Submitted by Michael McGlynn on 16 August 2017 - 11:01 pm

    I totally agree with the findings of the report. In my experience it has been difficult to source a supplier who accommodates female employees. Safety footwear, hi-viz clothing, must be suitable for all in size, cut, shape and proportion. Suppliers and manufacturer's are missing out on this vital area.


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