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Webinar: Comfort and Compliance in Women's PPE

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Key Takeaways

In this webinar we’ll discuss specific issues that women tend to face in regards to PPE, including fit and both physical and mental comfort.

Between 2016 and 2024, the industrial protective clothing market is expected to experience rapid growth, with the subcategories of “durable clothing” and “flame-resistant apparel” expected to grow by 14%. Women are desperately needed to help fill the demand for skilled trades workers.

As the number of women in many traditionally male dominated industries like construction and oil & gas increases, it has become more apparent that the same protective solutions used for men are not suitable. When women arrive on the job site, they often find their protective apparel to be simply smaller sized versions of men’s protective gear. This creates a safety hazard, as these outfits have too much bulky fabric in certain places, which gets in the way of the worker. These outfits are too cramped in the hips and often made from material that does not stretch well, restricting the wearer’s movement. On top of the safety issues, the outfits are downright unattractive, leaving women feeling uncomfortable.

Thus the demand for specific women’s PPE has rapidly increased. In this webinar we’ll discuss specific issues that women tend to face in regards to PPE, including fit and both physical and mental comfort.

[Webinar Transcription]

Tiffany: Hello, and a warm welcome to everybody. We would like to wish everyone a good morning, a good afternoon, or a good evening, depending on where you are in the world. My name is Tiffany, and I'm a part of Safeopedia. Safeopedia’s mission is to support the EHS professionals, operational folks, and any safety minded individuals with free safety information, tools and education. I'd like to extend a huge thank you to those dedicated professionals for the great work they do on a daily basis.

Just a reminder, the webinar is being recorded, and we’ll send out a link to the recording to everybody in a few days. This webinar is for you, the audience, so we'll keep it interactive. Get your questions into the GoToWebinar console as we go, and we'll get to them at the end of the presentation.

Today, we are proud to present, “Comfort and Compliance in Women's PPE.” This Safeopedia webinar is being presented by National Safety Apparel, a preferred manufacturer member of Safety Network. Safety Network demands excellence, so demand Safety Network.

It is now absolutely my pleasure to introduce you to today's presenters, Melissa Dixon and Jaime Glas. Melissa Dixon started her career in the technical design department at National Safety Apparel in 2010. After leaving the R&D Department for several years, Melissa transitioned to a role in product management where she specialized in flame resistant clothing and arc flash PPE. Melissa now leads the product management team at National Safety Apparel where she focuses on innovation, continuous improvement, and customer centric product development.

Jaime Glas graduated from Louisiana State University in 2012 with a bachelor’s degree in petroleum engineering and international trade and finance, and a minor in Chinese culture and commerce. She interned three summers during college with Chevron in Bakersfield and Houston then went to work full time as a production engineer for Chevron’s Carthage Field in East Texas. During her internships and new hire position, Jaime was wearing ill-fitting flame-resistant clothing and other PPE every day on the job. She decided to tackle this problem and began researching applicable coats and regulations in order to make a cover all that fit her properly. When female coworkers and peers from other companies caught wind of what she was doing, they formed a focus group to help her develop styles, choose colors, fit the garments, etc. After five years with Chevron, Glas moved to Austin, Texas to pursue a reservoir engineering position with Permian focus at Parsley Energy. It was in that she began to make strides in her development of Hot Work and ultimately launched the company as the first female clothes FRC brand in the US.

I’m very grateful to have you sit back, relax and enjoy this webinar. With that, Melissa and Jaime, please take it away.

Mellissa:Thanks, Tiffany. And thank you everyone for joining us today as we talk about women’s PPE.

So, first off, we're going to do a little review on employer responsibility and some best practices when it comes to PPE and compliance. Then we'll get into the specific PPE issues that face women, and once we address those issues, we'll talk about comfort and the link to compliance. With that, we’ll define comfort, what PPE, what comfortable PPE, actually means, and then we'll talk about some specific heat related issues that link back to compliance and comfort.

So, first off, I always like to start off with a little review of the Employer Responsibility as outlined by an NFPA and OSHA. First, employers are responsible for identifying all potential hazards for each job. Next, it's important to adopt any engineering controls that can help mitigate any of those hazards. For any hazards that cannot be eliminated, it's important to provide the appropriate PPE to protect employees against those hazards. And we'll get into a lot of today's topics, what that means, when we say appropriate PPE. That means appropriate fit, appropriate for the specific job tasks. There's a lot of things surrounding what exactly appropriate PPE means. And lastly, one of the most important things that often gets overlooked is educating the employees not only on the hazards that they are facing every day but also how to properly use and care for the PPE that protects them against those hazards.

Jaime:Yeah, I — this is Jaime. And to add to that, one of the main issues I found working in the industry is that workers and even practitioners in the PPE and safety industries don't fully understand the regulations and the categories of certain PPE, and when those classifications are required, what garments abide by those requirements. And I've heard so many times from customers, my shirt just has to have a Cat 2 on it. That stands for Hazard Risk Category 2, and the details behind that classification are extremely important to where you're using that garment. And it's the employer’s responsibility, and they're held accountable for educating the employees on the risks of what they face and how they're going to protect themselves against it. So, this is a very important one to me because I think that it's definitely lacking in the industry.

Mellissa:Absolutely. So, while employers are responsible for providing the right PPE for each of their workers, sometimes that can be a big hurdle to take on that cost. A lot of people look at the cost of either arc rated or SR clothing and say, “Oh My Gosh! You know, this is extremely expensive. It's a big investment.” But one of the things that's been proven is that it really pays for itself. If you leave a worker vulnerable to a flash fire incident or an arc flash incident, the cost of that accident is going to exceed well above what that arc rated clothing is.

So, this is an old study, but it still rings true today. In 1995, PECO did a study, and the cost of one accident can pay for arc rated clothing for up to 3,000 workers for five years. So, that just goes to show you basically that while it is an investment, it's really an important investment in your workers and really just pays for itself in the long run.

So, with that, an OSHA best practice that goes right along with what we're talking about today is, yes, employers need to provide the appropriate PPE, but it really is important that they're providing PPE that in the appropriate sizes for women, and this comes straight from the OSHA website. Women are a growing group in the industrial workforce, and it's extremely important that they are outfitted appropriately. Basically, one of the themes for today is, “One Size Does Not Fit All.” So, providing men's garments to women workers really just is no longer acceptable anymore. And we'll get into a lot of the reasons why.

So, I'm going to hand it over to Jaime, and she's going to talk about the specific PPE issues that women are facing every day.

Jaime:Thank you, Melissa. So, yeah, as she said, one of the main sort of for today is one size does not fit all, and certainly that's true for women. We come in a much wider variety of sizes and shapes than men. So, we definitely have specific considerations. There's a laundry list of issues that women face in the world of PPE, first being the actual physical fit of the clothing itself and how improper fit can cause injuries in the workplace or not help you prevent injuries from happening.

Also, another really important consideration is the issues with altering PPE. This one rings home to me particularly because I did used to alter my own PPE until I realized that it didn't exactly help the fit to take a men's extra-large coverall and hem it and take it in and pinch it in a couple of different places. You know, you really need your own pattern that's built for women's body. So, I had a pattern maker make one after I read up all the code.

And then, as we say, comfort and the link between that and compliance, that's a very big issue. You know, comfort is one of the number one things when I talk to customers of what they care about when they're buying PPE is that it's comfortable. And then the dangers of heat stress and those detriments to your productivity when you're working. We’ll even talk about PPE and heat stress related considerations that are specific to females, like hot flashes and things like that. And then lastly, we have — we kind of added in a more subjective issue which isn't really talked about in a lot of webinars around proper fitting PPE, but that is women having confidence in what they wear, and then we're going to introduce a term called “enclothed cognition” that kind of surrounds that school of thought.

So, when it comes to specific fit issues, there's obviously decreased mobility, dexterity and coordination when garments are oversized. There's also issues when the garments are too tight where you cannot move properly, you can't reach up to perform tasks if the if the shoulders are catching and things like that. So, it's oversized and really undersized garments that can cause issues when you're performing your work.

Improperly fitted boots and shoes is definitely an issue that really could have its own webinar or multiple on just that topic itself, but that happens for both men and women.

And then increasing the risk of accidents. There’s a thing like ill-fitting hardhats can slide off and no longer be protecting your head, or your safety glasses if they fit improperly can leave gaps.

Poor fit leaving areas of exposure. This one is another that can be the case if the garment is too loose because obviously, you cannot be exposing skin. But if the garment is fit too tight, it can tear and leave holes that also expose skin. So, it kind of goes both ways on that leaving exposure.

And then lastly, oversized garments leading to tripping. This one hit home for me. When I used to work for Chevron, I remember you had to have three points of contact when you were ascending or descending stairs. But if you had to hold up your garment at the waist so that you wouldn't trip over the keep, you couldn't have that safeguard that was in place. So, I faced this issue all the time in PPE that I used to wear.

And then next we’ve had issues with altering the PPE.

Sorry, it’s out there.

So, our next issue is altering PPE. It firstly voids the manufacturer's warranty. So, if you ever need a garment replaced or if there is an incident that occurred, the liability is now on yourself or your company. And so completely if you do — if you make any change to it now, it's no longer protected by the manufacturer's warranty. The actual intent of the garment is compromised if you change whatever the garment was intending. It might have had a specific design feature that you can compromise when you change the fit and alter it. It voids garment compliance with some of the regulations we talked about, an NFPA 2112 or ANSI for high vis. And then people can use unsafe and harmful materials when they are altering the garments. So, things like starches, you're not really sure what they're using, other different chemicals. Some that might counteract the FR nature of the garments, but also there are some that further contribute to injury.

And then lastly, taking a men's garment and tailoring it for a woman doesn't make that garment fit a woman. Like we said before, one size doesn't fit all for women. You know, we have smaller shoulders but wider hips than men. And in this industry, the PPE industry, in the past have this mentality — I call it “shrink it and pink it” — where they would take a men's pattern and just shrink it, maybe throw some pink on it and offer it to women. And now I think the industry is changing with companies like Hot Work that say, you know, we need to start from scratch and design clothes that fit women. They're only intended for women and they take all of the design considerations and all of the different varieties of women from very small to large and make designs that fit them well.”

So, this is kind of mid webinar wrap up, but there was a survey conducted in 2016, and the answers of this sort of wrap up everything that we're going to talk about today. In the ISEA and VPPPA survey, 90% of safety professionals and end users surveyed stated that they had witnessed workers not wearing PPE in situations that required it. So, Melissa is going to share what those top reasons were, but you might have, you're going to hear a lot of these topics come up.

Melissa:Yes, so the top reason for not wearing the appropriate PPE when it's required was actually it’s uncomfortable. So, I know a lot of people have heard that in the past, people don't want to wear their PPE because it has a reputation for being uncomfortable. There's a lot of new technology out there that has really improved the comfort over the years. So that was number one. Number two is that it's too hot. Again, another misconception in the industry that PPE is hot, it's heavy. Again, so many new advancements in technology has really made that unnecessary. And then the last two were that it didn't fit properly or that it was unattractive. So, all of these reasons really tie into what we're talking about today: uncomfortable, too hot, Ill-fitting and unattractive. So, it really rings true for all workers. We just happen to be talking about women in specific, but it really rings true for men as well. So, what we have seen is that comfortable PPE is going to increase compliance, it's going to get rid of that barrier and kind of excuse to not wear it. Specifically talking about PPE that is comfortable and does not contribute to heat stress. So, we’ll talk a little bit about that later. And then providing properly fitting PPE. So, these are all steps that you can take to encourage compliance with your employees or within your team. Just some couple of tidbits that ring true for both men and for women.

So, what happens when people are not compliant? Jaime is going to go into some of the risks that are associated with non-compliance.

Jaime:Yeah, so given that huge number that we just talked about, 90% of workers admitted to being coworkers not wearing proper PPE and situations that required it. This risk of non-compliance grows even more. There’s certainly cost associated when injuries occur. So, they're at the risk of an injury happening. And in burns that resulted in hospitalization, the cost per case with over $120,000, and it required 11 to 13 days of in-hospital treatment. So, most of the time, when this does occur, it likely happens to more than one person in an incident, and that's a huge monetary cost for the company.

The second most costly, worker’s compensation claim. Imagine all of the compensation claims out there, but it's because of its high expense per case. And then it leaves employers also at risk for OSHA violations, and hospitalization costs now when they’re with a, when there is a violation of one of their regulations.

And then I did also want to touch on something that's not here, which is one risk and it's a huge cost, probably amounting to more than this monetarily, and that's the emotional toll that injuries and accidents can have occur on not only the worker itself but that person's coworkers, the families. And if the worker is fortunate enough to be able to go back to work, productivity levels can drop drastically. Those around him or her can drop, especially if they're, you know, 11 to 13 days of in-hospital treatment. So, all of the dollars lost and the low morale, I think, and low productivity exceeds even the fixed costs that we talk about here. So, that's a more sort of emotional look at what will happen if an accident does occur. But it can all be prevented by wearing the proper PPE in the situations where it's required which we want to do, and we're going to give you some more tips to do that. We talked about comfort. So, now Melissa is actually going to define this, this being the number 1 issue that people gave for why they weren't wearing PPE.

Mellissa:Absolutely. So, when we did our end user research to really get to the heart of what is comfort? What do people think a comfortable garment is? How do you quantify that? It's really, you know, it's definitely something that's personal to people. But the three things that we heard time and time again were lightweight, breathable, and moisture wicking. So, this is specifically for, you know, PPE FR clothing that people are wearing. Lightweight garments are going to not weigh you down. They're going to be lightweight, they're easy to move in. They're not going to feel uncomfortable, or heavy, or make you hot.

Breathable is also extremely important for, again, not keeping in that heat. Breathable clothing allows heat and air to flow through, which is important for reducing the risk of heat stress. When heat gets trapped against your skin because it can't be released from your garment, that's when your skin temperature starts to rise, and you start to have heat stress set in. So, it's extremely important to have something that's going to breathe.

The other characteristic is moisture wicking. Now, a lot of people talk about this in the industry now: moisture wicking, high performance. What that really means is that it's pulling away moisture, so perspiration from your body, and it allows that moisture to spread throughout the fabric and dry extremely fast. So, cotton typically tends to hold on to moisture. It doesn't evaporate very quickly, and you're left with a very heavy, sticky garment, which is not very comfortable. But when something has moisture wicking properties, like, think about your athletic gear that you're wearing. It allows that moisture to evaporate quickly, and that actually creates a natural cooling process. So, not only are you staying dry, but you're actually cooler. So that, again, it's going to help mitigate heat stress. So, these three characteristics are what end users have told us that they think makes the garment comfortable.

So, we’ve talked a lot about heat stress, and one of the reasons why we focus on that is because the industries that we serve in particular — electrical utilities, oil and gas, construction, the metals industry — these are all industries that have a high exposure to high heat sometimes, whether you're working outside or you're working in a factory that maybe there's a furnace. These are all potential areas that can expose you to high heat. That coupled with the high exertion and obviously, things like health conditions, medications, dehydration, these all combine into risk factors for heat stress. So, this is why we talk about it a lot.

We’ve talked about the fact that there's, you know, sort of the stigma around PPE that it’s hot and uncomfortable. So, really, it's important to make sure that whatever you're choosing is not going to contribute to heat stress. Part of the reason is that heat stress is not only uncomfortable, it can lead to serious medical problems. First, starts off with just, you know, fatigue, confusion, cramping, dizziness. These are kind of the early onset symptoms, but even those can really affect workers’ ability to do their job safely and productively. So, it's why it's really important to just do whatever you can to mitigate these symptoms. If heat stress progresses even further, it can lead to heat rash, which is caused by excessive sweating, and then heatstroke, which is extremely severe.

So, there are a lot of tools on the OSHA website. I would definitely suggest that you check them out. There's heat stress, guys, there's training, and they even have an app that helps you determine what your level of sensitivity is, what the situation is in your work area, and then how to help mitigate those issues. So, extremely important while PPE does play into it, there's a lot of other things that you can do that aren't related to PPE. So, it’s definitely suggest checking out those resources on the OSHA website.

When we talk about heat illness and productivity, it is important because OSHA and medical professionals do see that you are less alert, you're not as able to think as clearly when you're in a heat stress situation, or really, when you're just, you know, even before that when you're just hot and uncomfortable. It doesn't allow you to have your main focus on the task at hand. And when that happens, it can lead to some unsafe work practices, possibly not even wearing your PPE appropriately because you're too hot. So, all of these things can just cause an unsafe and unproductive work practices. So, that's why we kind of focus a lot on comfort as it relates to mitigating heat stress.

In particular, when we talk about heat stress for women, there are certain issue just like with anything else that women face that men don't typically face on the work site. One of them is hot flashes. It’s, you know, something that women have to deal with. And there's actually a really interesting technology that we found. It was developed for NASA, and it was really meant to help astronauts regulate their skin temperature as the temperature in their surroundings fluctuated. So, this phase change change technology actually helps to reduce perspiration up to 34%. And when you're reducing perspiration, that's actually going to help you to not be dehydrated as fast. So again, that's going to help push back the symptoms of heat stress, and it can actually balance your skin temperature, plus or minus three degrees. So, this actually works in hot and in cold temperatures.

So, it's really nice to use help you keep comfortable and feel a little bit more regulated. But the benefits specific to women, there have been studies that found that this is very good for helping people to stay more comfortable when they're experiencing hot flashes. So, this is often used in undergarments or in sleepwear and definitely something applicable for PPE. You can find it in flame resistant base layers, for instance. So, you know, definitely something you may want to take into consideration as you're choosing your PPE.

So now that we’ve talked about, you know, safety related issues, comfort related issues, we're going to follow up with kind of our last step of, you know, how do you feel in your clothing? Do you feel comfortable? Do you feel confident? And Jaime's gonna follow with that.

Jaime:Yeah. So, going back to the study that we mentioned in 2016, saying that 90% of workers saw coworkers not wearing their PPE in situations that required it. If you can remember the number four reason that they gave, or the fourth top reason, was that it was unattractive. And, you know, I've done a lot of research on this topic. It's a — in psychology, it's an actual study that people have done studies on called enclothed cognition. And this definition says, enclothed cognition captures the systematic influence that clothes have on the wearer’s psychological processes. Clothing can enhance our psychological states, and it can improve our performance on tasks.

So, this is the best way for me to describe this is, this is why we don't go to work in our pajamas because, you know, we get out for the day, we get dressed. This is why, you know, women sometimes wear makeup to work and do their hair. You care about what you look like, and that helps you perform better in your day-to-day activities. So, this is something that you don't really think about in your PPE, but if you think back, this is why when PPE is ill fitting and it looks silly, and it doesn't fit you well, you can feel sort of less confident and self-conscious in what you're wearing, and then does in your actual work that you're performing.

This other quote we found, “Clothing plus communication skills determine whether or not workers will comply with your requests, trust you with information, give you access to decision makers, pay you a certain salary, so on and so on.” So, having your clothing on that makes you feel good and confident and then having communication skills, those things coupled together can really help you excel and move forward in your workplace and, you know, be promoted to that position you're looking for, and things like that.

So, confidence and enclothed cognition shouldn't be ignored in the discussion around safety, although it's not just a physical safety measure that we can quantify like heat stress, or you can’t actually see it like, oh, that shirt is too big for you. But it's an internal, more emotional, psychological kind of study on how people feel in what they're wearing.

So, we're going to kind of wrap up with some suggestions that we have. So, whether you're a safety manager, a woman working right now, a man working who has heard his female coworkers complain about their PPE, any of this, you know, we suggest that first and foremost you talk to the person in charge of the PPE program or purchasing your PPE and explain the issues you're feeling. Is it comfort? Is it you're too hot, or you're feeling too hot? Is it that it’s ill-fitting? Is it that you just feel unattractive and just frankly not really confident in what you're wearing, and you don't feel good proposing something to your boss wearing something that's silly and ill-fitting? So, talk to your safety manager and explain these issues that you're having. This day and age, I promise you they will listen to you, and they will take your considerations.

And there’s really lots of companies out there that offer options for men and women now. The topic of women is spreading. It's becoming larger. Companies are looking at the variety, as we said, of sizes of women and trying to capture all of those and have garments that fit curvy women, or slimmer women, or petite women, or tall women. So, the options are out there. And, you know, we suggest that further you should try on multiple garments. I, you know, I haven't found — even in regular clothes, when you when you buy just a regular shirt and pants. You know, there's certain brands or there are certain companies that you like to buy from and certain ones that you don't because of how they fit. It's the same with PPE. Not all companies are going to offer the best fitting garments out there for every type of man, woman and everything, so you need to try on and get the best fit. What do you feel most comfortable in, what do you think you're going to perform best in.

And then lastly, to touch on this again, never alter your PPE. It’s a huge no, no, and frankly, there's enough options out there if you can do your research to find something that'll fit you. You know, a lot of companies offer custom inseams now for men and women, and they offer a women’s shape or a women's cut. So, don't alter your PPE. It's unnecessary. I've seen garments out there on the market that can fit every everywhere from a size extra, extra, extra small woman to a 6X curvy. So, it's out there. You just have to do your research and talk to your company, talk to your safety manager about that and just be honest and tell them this will make me feel better and make me perform my job better.

So, in summary, kind of tying everything back together. It is the employer’s responsibility to provide workers with appropriate PPE that both men and women. And we are urging employers to recognize that they should offer different options for men and women, not just one blanket shirt or pant that the women have to conform to because the reality is that mostly what's out there in that situation is designed for men. So, it is the employer’s responsibility, and it's also their responsibility to educate you on what the hazards that you're going to encounter in your job, and what type of clothing, what hazard risk category of clothing will help protect you against those hazards so that an injury doesn't occur if an accident were to happen.

And then there are specific issues, as we talked about, that should be taken into consideration when outfitting women PPE. So, not only it can be oversized or undersized if it's a garment made for a man, you know, depending on the woman itself who could be a variety of shapes. And so, there's not only that, but then there's also certain key issues that Melissa will go into. So, yeah, outfitting all workers… Yeah.

Mellissa:Yeah, so just making sure tying into that that all workers are outfitted with PPE that they feel comfortable in. That's what is really going to help increase compliance and lead to a safer, more productive workforce. So, while it may seem like, you know, spending that extra money to get a lightweight, moisture wicking garment is unnecessary, it can really help save money in the long run by reducing the risk of injury and encouraging people to actually wear their PPE properly. Same thing with, you know, it may be more expensive to provide a woman with a custom coveralls, but in the end, you know, it really is going to work to the company's favor to have a safer, more productive employee.

And then just to touch again, heat stress is a hazard that can affect all workers, and definitely check out the OSHA website for more information on PPE selection and the appropriate tools to help mitigate heat stress hazards.

And thank you for joining us today. We are going to take some questions and feel free to reach out to us. We talked a lot about employer responsibility and educating on hazards, and we can definitely be a great resource for that as well as Safeopedia. So, anybody that didn't have a chance to ask their questions today or if we don't get to it I have our contact information up on the screen here. You can visit our website or contact us a variety of different ways.

Tiffany:Melissa and Jaime, if you have any closing words you'd like to share?

Jaime:Well, I think, first, thank you to Safeopedia for allowing us to share our thoughts on comfort and compliance in women’s PPE. It's a big consideration to both Melissa and I from different aspects or from different points of view, but I think we’ve come together and have a really unique kind of story and position on the topic. So, thanks for letting us share it. And like we said before, please don't hesitate at all to reach out. My email is [email protected] We don't have that on here, but you can find me on, anywhere on there, and get in touch with me if you ever have any questions. I know as I've been sitting here, I've gotten several emails, and I'm guessing of listeners asking things on our website’s contact form. So, please keep asking if you ever have any questions, and we can always direct you. If we don't have the offerings ourselves, we can direct you to someone we know who does. So, thank you!

Mellissa:Absolutely. Feel free to check out the NSA website, ask any questions on any of the emails that we have listed on the screen. And thank you so much for joining us. I really appreciate it.

Tiffany:Excellent! Well, I'd like to thank you both, Melissa and Jaime, for an excellent webinar. I'd like to also thank National Safety Apparel and Safety Network, and the audience for coming out today. Just a reminder, we will be sending out a link to the recording and the presentation slides in a few days. Thanks again. Take care and stay safe.

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