One Size Does Not Always Fit All
by Lauren Gracey, WISE Young Professionals’ Board Member
Whilst it is important to remember that Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) should always be the last consideration in methods to reduce workplace risk, it should not be underestimated how important these personal items are.
The Health and Safety Executive are still reporting approximately 9000 PPE-related accidents each year, with 31.2 million working days lost in 2016/2017 due to work-related illness and workplace injury.
It is therefore not surprising that the global PPE market is growing and is currently forecast to grow at a compound annual growth rate of almost 4% between 2016-2020. Within the UK, the forecast is slightly lower, as HSE has already mandated the use of PPE in the workplace. That is not to say that the UK market has stagnated. The focus within the UK over the past number of years has been to develop more efficient, economically competitive, and improved products.
This includes the provision of a larger range of sizes and fits to include female-focussed PPE.
From personal experience, this has come as a welcome development. No longer do I need scissors to cut the arm length of full-sleeved vests, and finally, we can keep our gloves on to complete site tasks. Female site engineers all over the UK are finally able to operate equipment with gloves that fit and allow the user to feel the sometimes minute movements of setting out equipment. Spare socks can now be left at home as my boots fit with only one pair rather than the two or three pairs I used to use to fill out boots that – at their smallest – were two sizes too large.
However, my experience may be representative of only a small amount of the female population across STEM industries. Only 29% of women who took part in a 2016 Prospect study reported having PPE designed for women at their workplace. More than half of survey participants, 57%, reported that mis-fitting PPE sometimes or significantly hampers their work. The participants were representative of an array of sectors including transport, manufacturing, construction, research, nuclear and emergency services.
We all share the desire to work within industries that cause zero harm. Surely the provision of the correct equipment is a relatively easy target in working towards our shared goal? To provide all workers with PPE that fits and is appropriate for the task at hand should be a given. It is not acceptable to expect our workforce to alter ill-fitting safety equipment. The benefit of PPE is that it has been designed with particular safety considerations in mind, and each person deserves to enter their workplace with the expectation to perform their tasks in an efficient and safe manner.
That said – Fancy patterns, lilac strips, floral designs (really!) and additional pockets are not the key necessity for the female workforce! We just want a range of protective equipment – that fits – to keep us as safe as our male counterparts.