Women’s PPE is a hot topic within the construction industry this year, and rightfully so! Several campaigns have been launched recently on the topic of women’s PPE, such as: #PPEthatfits, #Designherin, #HairandSafety and #PPErevolution.
For decades, women have had to suffer through the negative effects of wearing ill-fitting unisex PPE. With the number of women entering the industry on the rise, it’s clear that a change needs to be made to the way we protect women in construction, and that change needs to cover ill-fitting PPE.
As part of the NAWIC Yorkshire committee, (National Association of Women in Construction), I felt that because we have such a diverse network of women across the UK construction industry, it was the perfect opportunity for us to undertake research on the topic.
In August 2023, we issued a survey to our network relating to ‘Women’s PPE in the Construction Industry’. We received over 150 responses which provided us with some valuable feedback about the current situation with women’s PPE, in terms of its procurement, availability and the barriers that women are facing when trying to find well-fitting PPE.
When asked what PPE the respondents wear, the 5-point PPE standard was noted across the majority of results (high visibility clothing, protective footwear, hard hat, gloves and safety glasses), but other PPE mentioned included: hearing protection, harnesses, respirator, overalls and fire-resistant clothing.
We asked the respondents if they’d had any experiences regarding health and safety issues relating to ill-fitting PPE. Examples of the responses included:
- Oversized boots causing a trip hazard, discomfort, and health problems (i.e.. Tendinitis, Morton’s Neuroma)
- Oversized gloves causing issues with gripping handrails and tools
- Baggy legs on trousers causing a trip hazard
- High visibility vests not buttoning up and causing discomfort
- Difficulty in adjusting harnesses to fit
- Ill-fitting overalls restricting movement
- Constantly fixing ill-fitting PPE distracting from what’s happening on site
- Ill-fitting goggles causing them to steam up and hamper vision
The PPE which was most mentioned to cause health and safety issues was high visibility jackets and vests, highlighting the issue that men’s and unisex clothing is not suitable for women.
Ill-fitting PPE is dangerous, as our respondents have noted, and employers should be made aware of this through changes in law and legislation to make the requirement of providing suitably fitting PPE.
There is a long way to go in the development of women’s PPE, but there are a number of manufacturers out there that are leading the way in the inclusivity of women’s PPE in the UK.
If you are interested in reading the full report, it can be found here.
Katy Robinson is a multiple award winning Senior Project Manager from East Yorkshire with over 6 years of industry experience in Quantity Surveying and Construction Project Management on both construction and civil engineering projects up to a value of £20m.
Experienced in working directly for subcontractors, contractors, and local authority clients, delivering projects for a variety of industries, including: residential, commercial, flood alleviation, highways, education, corporate, leisure and net zero.
Possesses the ability to work effectively in a team, adapts to the constantly changing work environment of the construction industry, applies problem solving methods where required and approaches all situations with enthusiasm to produce exceptional results.
Advocate and ambassador for the development of the Humber Region, the UK construction industry, and equality, diversity and inclusion.