A survey of Prospect members has shown that women are still being overlooked when it comes to appropriate PPE. Size and fit are extremely important for PPE to be effective. If it doesn’t fit it doesn’t do its job and it’s an issue that affects many workers – predominantly but not exclusively women.
Prospect’s survey, which received 1,175 responses, showed that a significant proportion of workers who regularly use PPE experience problems with fit and size. The difference in experience between men and women is stark. Overalls, jackets and trousers are where the gender dimension peaks.
A shocking 48.5% of our female respondents told us that their PPE trousers fit poorly, compared to 16.6% of male respondents, while 44.7% of female respondents and just 15.3% of male respondents said that their overalls fit poorly.
Prospect members at the Health and Safety Executive’s (HSE) Health and Safety Laboratory road test PPE for use by diverse workers in diverse industrial situations. They emphasised that PPE must keep the user safe both while they wear it, and during contamination and removal. Experiments have shown how aerosol particulates can gather in bunched-up fabric – rolled sleeves and belted waists on overalls – only to become airborne again when the garment is removed.
Face masks and safety glasses are a raw nerve for many of the women who responded to our PPE survey:
21.5% of women reported ill-fitting eye protection, compared with 13.5% of men
15.7% of women and 7% of men had problems with poorly-fitting respiratory equipment, and
13.8% of women and 7.6% of men had problems with ear protection.
Further details of the survey are available on request.
Sue Ferns, senior deputy general secretary of Prospect, said:
“Properly fitting PPE is essential both for comfort and effectiveness and it is generally women who are being overlooked. This is a perennial problem but for it to be persisting in the middle of the biggest acute health crisis in generations is appalling.
“Employers should engage with unions to ensure workers’ needs are properly addressed. The era of one-size-fits-all must end now.”