PPE for women

PPE for Women: The Nearest Male Size Just Isn’t Good Enough

When it comes to personal protective equipment, not everything is created equal. As many women can testify, with masks, boots and workwear being predominantly designed for men, finding a comfortable, practical fit can be nearly impossible when you’re a woman.

International Women’s Day is on Tuesday 8th March, with the theme of ‘Break the Bias’ – aiming for a gender equal world. We’re doing our bit to break that bias by providing comfort and protection with PPE designed around the female form, showing it can lead to a better work environment, better personal confidence and better performance.

Struggling with the ‘one size fits all’ mentality

Sarah has just arrived on site, but already her heels are rubbing against the inside of her boots and she can feel yesterday’s blisters becoming raw and painful.

Lucy needs to wear a respirator mask at all times while carrying out her work, but the straps never seem to adjust properly and she’s often worried about a gap around her jawline.

Alex is nervous about the meeting happening today on site, and it’s not helped by the fact that the PPE needed makes them look like they’ve raided the dressing up box. It might be safe, but its confidence-sapping.

Finding protective equipment for your face, eyes, hands and feet that provides a good comfortable fit can be challenging, but for most women there’s a much bigger problem. The majority of PPE and workwear has been designed for men, and using the nearest equivalent sizes when your feet, face and figure are fundamentally a different shape very rarely gives you the safety, practicality, comfort and confidence you need to perform well at work.

Taking a stand for women’s safety at work

PPE manufacturers have made moves to support women, but there is a still a long way to go. Pink hi-vis simply isn’t enough. Balance in the workplace is not just a gender issue; it’s a business issue. It’s been proven that greater equality and diversity in the workplace leads to better productivity and happier staff. This article by the International Monetary Fund cites an IMF study showing greater participation by women in the workforce leads to boosts in growth, productivity and indeed male outcomes too.

The race is on for gender-balanced boardrooms, gender-balanced media coverage, a gender-balance of employees, gender-balance in salaries and wealth, gender-balanced government, gender-balanced sports coverage… and gender-balanced PPE! For women to truly have equal opportunities with men in all sectors, manufacturers and organisations must invest in PPE and workwear designed properly for women.

Working with women to improve PPE design

In the effort to adapt ill-fitting boots, masks and protective clothing to improve their practicality and comfort, many women have resorted to a variety of desperate measures: extra socks, belts, elastic bands, or even masking tape!

And making designs more specific to the female form doesn’t mean sacrificing other advances in PPE technology – the Anchor Safety range for women, used by Dematic, shows huge advances in sustainability too, with the range made completely from plastic bottles.

We’d like to see the end of quick-fix bodges and the beginning of a comprehensive range of modern, sustainable PPE and workwear that is fit for purpose. Here’s how we’re addressing the issues in the main areas of protective workwear:

Safety Footwear

There are many key differences between the shapes of men’s and women’s feet. The average women’s foot is actually three sizes smaller than a man’s, and if we compare the same size foot from each gender, we find women’s feet are approximately 3mm narrower than men’s, with a much narrower heel but a wider ball nearer the toes.

So, a woman who wears a size 9 ladies’ shoe will have a narrower foot, smaller heel and wider girth than a man who typically wears a size 7 shoe (usually seen as the male equivalent size). This means women will have to endure a very poor fit that fails to support their feet in all the right places, and leads to friction and pressure around the heel and ball.

Women should obtain safety footwear made with female ‘lasts’, so that their women’s safety boots, safety shoes and safety trainers fit not only their shoe size, but also their foot shape as well.

Until recently, women have had very little choice other than to wear footwear designed for men. However, we now have comprehensive ranges of brands including Puma, Cofra, Lavoro and Lightyear safety footwear specifically designed for women that meet all European safety requirements in all hazardous working environments as well as those for perfect comfort.

Respiratory Protection

The female face is generally (although not always) slightly different in its proportions to a man’s. It is often physically smaller, but the main difference can be in the chin and jawline, which is often more gentle and less pronounced.

With more women entering workplaces where exposure to hazardous fumes or gas is routine, respiratory protection catering for the feminine face is becoming of ever-greater importance. There are often issues with finding a safe, snug fit to your face mask that proves both comfort and peace of mind.

Of our own products, the BLS Zer031 mask is recommended for people with smaller and medium faces. It’s full seal and preformed cup shape make it an excellent fit for a more feminine cheek, chin and jawline. Together with the BLS flickit mask, we find the Zer031 is the BLS article most used and endorsed by women.

Looking and feeling great on the job

Women in all sectors of industry where they are exposed to hazardous environments need to be able to wear PPE designed to be a good fit.

With a greater equality in their PPE, women will be better able to focus on their jobs and their performance, rather than their lack of comfort or the potential dangers of wearing items that might cause snagging or tripping problems perhaps resulting in injury or death.

Wearing PPE that is designed to be a proper fit, and to work well with your body, changes how you stand, move and feel in your workplace. We want to help women in manufacturing, engineering, construction, hygiene and any other potentially hazardous workplaces feel more professional, confident and safe.

Tell us what you think!

How could properly-fitting masks and footwear change your life?

Tell us what annoys you most about your PPE and where you’re hurting the worst, and we’ll work harder to find or create a solution.

Meanwhile, celebrate International Women’s Day with pride on Tuesday 8th March and help to break the bias and create a better working environment.