Personal protective equipment (PPE) manufacturers who are members of the International Safety Equipment Association (ISEA), note that when it comes to safety equipment, one size and style does not fit all, and with women making up a greater share of the workforce, manufacturers who are tailoring PPE products to the fit and style preferences of women are ahead of the game.

PPE manufacturing insiders describe the risks female workers face when asked to wear PPE designed for men, what manufacturers are doing to answer the call for women’s PPE, and what safety professionals and workers should know.

Risks for women

In the past, it was common practice for women to be given the standard PPE that was originally developed for the predominately male industrial workforce. This can put women at risk of injury, since PPE traditionally designed for the dimensions of an average male worker means that female workers are apt to rely on PPE that is too large or disproportioned. Ill-fitting PPE can cause safety hazards: reduced dexterity from oversized gloves; baggy coveralls catching on equipment; tripping because footwear or shoe covers are too large.

Women often have issues regarding the fit of hard hats that can be too big for the heads of most women, and a loose-fitting hard hat can obstruct a woman’s vision if it slips off her head.

"Finding the appropriate sizes of PPE to properly outfit the entire workforce should be a key component of any safety program."

Designed exclusively for women

Manufacturers have taken note of the need for PPE designed exclusively for women. More women are working in the safety industry than ever before, and as safety industry leaders continue to advocate for all people with special fit and function needs, manufacturers can continue to push innovation and make the workplace safer for everyone.

Additionally, safety product standards are being revised to reflect the needs of smaller-sized people. According to ISEA, two recently revised ANSI/ISEA PPE standards have included changes to requirements that previously hindered access to well-fitting PPE by smaller people.

Workers need PPE that fits

When women don’t have properly fitting protective equipment, they may be tempted to alter the PPE they’re using. This should never be done since PPE is certified to a particular standard. The garment is tested in the way it is intended to be worn. If women are manipulating a garment to improve its fit — perhaps by tying or cutting the extra fabric — the garment may no longer be compliant, which puts their safety at risk.

It’s important that employers keep all workers in mind when selecting PPE. Finding the appropriate sizes of PPE to properly outfit the entire workforce should be a key component of any safety program. Ultimately, offering PPE that accommodates all workers is the right thing to do, and all workers — male or female — deserve PPE that fits properly.