The Hidden Costs of Broken Supply Chains: How End Users Are Paying the Price?

I’ve sat in rooms and listened to people say “why can’t suppliers just make women’s fit PPE?!”.

I’ve said it more than once myself, but after going at this PPE deep dive for a year now I’ve seen that manufacturers make some brilliant PPE for an inclusive market, yet still it’s not reaching end users. As for the term “supplier”, there are very few suppliers who make the PPE products themselves, suppliers are more the stockists and the distributors of manufacturers and brands.

So why aren’t suppliers stocking women’s fit PPE?

That’s a better question for us to ask. Maybe we should look closer to home – Why hasn’t the company you work for chosen to award the PPE supply contract to a company supplying women’s PPE? We can keep going since this isn’t just about women – Why has your company awarded the PPE contract to a supplier who only stocks PPE for an average sized man?

Now we’re getting somewhere with our questioning. I’ll give you a clue. The two Ps in PPE don’t stand for personal protective to an irresponsible employer, they stand for price point. I bet in this case the purchaser or procurement department has even been given a limit on how much to spend on PPE, and I bet that limit is based around what it costs to kit out an average size man [in unethical sweatshop tat that is going to last two trips through the industrial wash and dry].

If you’re reading this and thinking surely not, it’s personal protective equipment, the last and sometimes only layer of the safety system, we spend so much on safety equipment why would this be any different? I’m with you there buddy, this article is not for you; however, if you’re working at a level of influence please could you check with your procurement department or purchaser to make sure they are aware of this too. Your workforce who don’t fall into the bracket of average-sized-man will thank you. But there’s another reason the end user isn’t receiving the PPE they need to stay safe – queue the lazy line manager.

The lazy line manager may well be a brilliant boss in so many ways, laid back, let’s you crack on with your work in your own time, but if they can’t be bothered to find out where to get your non average sized man PPE from and then just order you the same as everyone else (i.e. average sized man PPE), then they aren’t so brilliant after all, they are putting you in danger.

Why is it even a mission to find out where to get women’s PPE from in big corporate companies?

Why do we feel the need to put it in a different “special” PPE catalogue?

Let’s make people feel a bit more bothered. All I see is more and more hurdles between people who aren’t average sized men and fulfilling the goal of being safe.

So here’s what I’ve discovered about the PPE chain:

Manufacturers make women’s PPE, it’s not all perfect but there are a lot of high quality, ethically made, well-fitting pieces already on the market. Manufacturers are struggling to get their new PPE pieces certified because of the lack of PPE certification houses and the backlog created by our government’s recent U-turn on UKCA certification. That has a knock-on effect to new, better fitting products hitting the market.

Not all suppliers stock wide ranges of women’s PPE, some don’t stock any. Some claim unisex is appropriate and for everyone when it is designed around a man’s frame. This is dangerous and irresponsible. Some search out feedback, some talk to end users like they are complete morons, some are jumping on the bandwagon and claiming they are reinventing the women’s PPE market. Suppliers will slim down manufacturers ranges to ensure they achieve the highest profit margins, narrowing the selection available to the end user. Suppliers dictate to the businesses which PPE items they can have and irresponsible, non-diverse, procurement departments and purchasers who don’t differentiate between a layer of the safety system and clothing just nod like good little doggies and buy it without challenge.

Procurement departments will take the suppliers list and slim down further to create an approved PPE list, narrowing the selection available to the end user, sometimes completely removing the necessary kit required by those who aren’t average sized men. People who need to order the PPE from the approved PPE list may not easily access the full list so order average sized pieces that may or may not offer adequate protection for the wearer.

The end user may not find themselves in a culture that is accepting of people who challenge or speak out. They accept the PPE or try to find their own, claiming it back through expenses, without fully understanding the safety requirements. So when the comment is made about there not being PPE for women my blood begins to boil because I know where the problems lie and they are not with the manufacturers.

Business leaders, it’s time to accept responsibility for your workforce’s safety, YOU have created this problem.

Katherine Evans is an experienced and skilled Geotechnical Manager and a passionate advocate for culture transformation and equality. She is also the founder and leader of the ‘Bold as Brass’ movement.

Bold as Brass was set up to bring women of heavy industries together and in doing so they found something that’s unequal. 

“PPE isn’t a uniform, it’s the final layer of the safety system that stops us getting safe. When it is inadequate it becomes a hazard. It’s doing the opposite of what it’s meant for.” – Katherine Evans

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