By Mary Padron, Radians
For many years, women in construction and other trades did not have many personal protective equipment (PPE) choices. They were frequently outfitted in the same apparel as their male counterparts. Instead of receiving a hi-vis vest or FR coverall made to fit a woman’s form or shape, they often had to wear unisex apparel or a “one size smaller” men’s vest or coverall.
According to the International Safety Equipment Association (ISEA), “As recently as ten years ago, it was difficult to find arc-rated and flame-resistant (AR / FR) protective apparel made specifically for women….”
Or other times, women wore completely different garments than men, which made them feel conspicuous among their male peers, especially if they had to wear a pink hard hat or a pink vest.
This “shrink and pink” approach resulted in ill-fitting apparel that manifested additional safety hazards or led to psychologically undesirable feelings of being ostracized from the team.
Women’s PPE — A Powerful Tool for Safety Pros and a Godsend for Women
As more females enter the trades and as workplace diversity and inclusion gain momentum, the role of women’s PPE is emerging in the industrial workforce as a powerful tool for safety pros and as a godsend for women. The bottom line is safety pros need to value women’s safety just as much as they value men’s safety. Conscious or unconscious bias in any safety program should not cloud the PPE selection process for women’s PPE.
Why Handing Out Ill-fitting PPE is Ill-advised
Ill-fitting garments are not a dependable safety solution. Although a high visibility vest increases a woman’s visibility, it will expose her to other risks if the vest doesn’t fit right.
Baggy or oversized apparel can lead to a catch hazard, often resulting in trips and falls, which are a leading cause of injuries at construction and manufacturing facilities. Or, an oversized vest can get caught in machinery, leading to serious injuries. Too often, women will alter or change oversized PPE, which leads to compliance complications. Just as oversized PPE has its perils, so does tight-fitting apparel that leads to discomfort and improper wear, like wearing garments open, tucked, or not at all.
Safety pros need to remind themselves that any PPE that doesn’t fit properly can become a hazard for men and women. A hard hat that’s too large may fall off. Gloves that are too large may get caught up in a fan belt. Safety glasses that are too big may slip off. If goggles are too big, gaps at the temples allow flying debris to enter the eyes. Men’s-sized work boots on women often cause blisters and burning and extra risks for toe injuries.
The American Society of Safety Professionals (ASSP) noted in its 2019 report titled “Women and Safety in the Modern Workplace” that “ill-fitting PPE can also psychologically affect workers,” making women feel less confident and less productive. Women who feel uncomfortable or embarrassed about their PPE will not perform as well, are more inclined to injury, and are less likely to remain in the job.
The New Demand for Women’s PPE
Women are entering the construction, transport, and manufacturing sectors of the workforce. Of the 10 million people working in construction, almost 1.2 million are female. As this influx of female talent continues, the demand for women’s PPE is also increasing.
According to a press release from ResearchAndMarkets.com, the demand for women’s PPE from 2020 to 2025 is growing by:
- 4.1% in construction
- 3.9% in transport
- 3.7% in manufacturing
In addition to growth in these sectors, other factors are influencing the demand for women’s PPE. These factors revolve around the heightened awareness and knowledge among safety pros that:
- One size does not fit all
- Compliance is compromised when ill-fitting PPE is handed out
- Ill-fitting PPE increases jobsite hazards leading to trips, slips, falls, and fatalities
- Women’s PPE, according to OSHA, should be based on female body measurement data
In the past few years, garments tailored for women have become more prevalent in the workforce. These garments often look similar to male apparel but are designed with meaningful features that are important to women. Some of these features include:
- Narrower shoulders
- Smaller armholes
- Contouring and tapering at the waist
- Wider sweep in the hip area or the inclusion of side slits
- Higher zippers/closures for more coverage and security
- Extended sizing from XS to 5X to fit a variety of shapes and sizes
- Comfortable fabrics with more stretch
“Although women’s PPE has extra features and different pattern-making requirements than men’s PPE, manufacturers who are at the forefront of creating women’s PPE are trying to keep costs for women’s apparel in line with the cost of men’s apparel,” said Nicole Novick, Radians® Hi-Vis Product Manager. “This approach helps extinguish the excuse that it costs more to outfit women in proper fitting PPE, which increases the chances of women receiving the PPE they actually need,” said Novick.
Choices in Women’s PPE Today
ANSI/ISEA 107 Type O Class 1, Type R Class 2, and Type R Class 3 garments are all offered, covering various compliance and application needs. Some manufacturers like Radians also offer several styles of “his and her” hi-vis vests to create uniformity across the job site and promote gender equality. These “his and her” vests are competitively priced to overcome price objections that surround women’s PPE.
“Plus, if your construction site needs a custom garment for women or men, a select few PPE manufacturers are equipped to create Made in the USA custom apparel for unique job site applications,” said Novick.
To stay on top of the emerging role of women’s PPE in the industrial workforce, safety pros should ask their PPE supplier about their women’s line. In addition to high-visibility apparel for women, there are now a variety of choices for women in FR coveralls, hearing and vision protection, hard hats, gloves, and battery-powered heated gear. Women’s PPE has expanded at such a rapid rate that some manufacturers now offer a women’s PPE brochure or catalog via website download or hard copy.
For example, Radians took its popular men’s Neese 7oz Ultra-soft flame-resistant coverall and reshaped it to fit women better without sacrificing protection. Foam earplugs now come in smaller sizes to better fit smaller ear canals, and safety glasses that fit smaller faces and head shapes are being sold in the marketplace. Likewise, popular styles of work gloves are being offered in smaller sizes to accommodate smaller hands and slender fingers.
Respecting the Differences
Women differ from men in size and shape, so their PPE needs to reflect and respect those differences. Although great strides in women’s PPE have been made in the last three years, gaps remain, especially in work boots, body suits, harnesses, and in some styles of work gloves.
As awareness about the protection, performance, and cost effectiveness of women’s PPE increases, it’s refreshing to see how the “shrink and pink” approach is taking a backseat to “proper fit and form.”
ABATIX offers a variety of Radians Women's PPE. You can always rely on our team of knowledgeable reps to help you make the most informed decisions. Contact your local ABATIX rep today.