Perhaps you remember the embarrassing scenario for NASA in early 2019, when the space agency was forced to cancel its first-ever all-woman spacewalk because they didn’t have two suits on the International Space Station that fit them. While most people were shocked, women in professions that require them to wear personal protective equipment (PPE) know the challenges they face in getting equipment that fits properly. The problem has really come to the fore as more and more women enter professions that have traditionally been jobs that men gravitate towards. For example, nearly 10% of construction jobs in the U.S. are now held by women. It’s not uncommon for women in those types of work to have to use equipment that is made for men, forcing them to don overalls, gloves, vests, footwear and more that are too large,If you have jobs that require specialized protective equipment, now is the time to also make sure that you have items in smaller sizes if you have women on your team. It may not always be easy to find everything in smaller sizes. It’s usually not too difficult to find protective shoes in women’s sizes, but coveralls and tools for smaller hands are rare. Getting the right fit for your workers is imperative because loose-fitting items can lead to accidents that cause injuries or worse, especially if loose coveralls get caught in machinery. Items that you should consider having in smaller sizes include:
- Safety glasses
- Hard hats
- Protective shoes
- Safety harnesses
- Safety gloves
- Ear plugs
You should also not ask your female workers to take shortcuts, like rolling up sleeves or pantlegs that are too long. If they are rolled up, they’re not providing protection to parts of the arms and legs, experts say. And it’s not just women who are small. Clearly, many men are also smaller than average, and they often have the same issues with ill-fitting protective equipment as women do. The problem is that most employers that buy protective equipment for workers order it in bulk, and they will usually opt for large or extra-large sizes.
Apply standards uniformly
If you have women in your workforce, you should apply the same standards to their PPE as you do for men. To make sure that you have equipment that fits all of your workers:
- First, talk to your employees and ask them to give honest assessments of how the PPE they have been issued fits.
- Don’t ask women to wear equipment that is too large. It can create a safety hazard and may not protect them properly.
- Don’t alter equipment yourself. Safety equipment is manufactured to provide safety if it fits properly. Altering the equipment can make it unsafe and noncompliant with safety standards.
- Don’t criticize, ignore or retaliate against employees who report ill-fitting PPE.
- When selecting safety equipment, consult with your employees to make sure you order items that will fit them.
- Provide the same range of sizes for women as for men and ensure that suppliers have properly assessed the appropriateness of their equipment to women and men.
- Require your workers to try on different sizes of equipment before choosing the ones that fit best.