Although more than half of women are part of the American workforce, some personal protective equipment (PPE) is still designed primarily to fit men. This leaves women at an increased risk of workplace injuries, since ill-fitting equipment provides inadequate protection and may even be a contributing cause to some hazards (see this Safety Moment on Pinch Points for one example).

This article will provide advice on selecting the right head, eye, and ear PPE for women (for advice on other equipment, see Selecting the Right PPE for Women: Hand, Foot, and Body Safety).

Head Safety

Hard hats are designed to protect the head from injuries caused by impact, penetration, or electrical shock. However, women, on average, tend to have smaller heads than men, which can make it difficult to find hard hats with smaller crown strap suspension systems. Some women have found that adding a chin-strap improves the fit, but purchasing properly sized equipment is a must (see Employee Rights: What PPE Does My Employer Have to Provide for more details).

When selecting hard hats make sure that:

  • It will protect the head from any hazards in your workplace
  • The headband fits securely
  • There is an adjustable chin-strap
  • The hard hat does not feel too heavy
  • It won't create an imbalance when worn with additional required PPE, like earmuffs

Tips on safe use and maintenance:

  • Clean the suspension and shell of the hard hat regularly using mild dish soap, a wet sponge, and water
  • Check your hard hat for damage, such as cracks and dents, before each use
  • Do not wear hard hats backwards unless they are designed to be worn that way
  • Replace the outer shell every five years
  • Replace the suspension annually

Eye Safety

Safety glasses and safety goggles are designed to protect the eyes from debris, dust, and other materials that could cause injuries or diseases. Depending on the job requirements, safety eyewear might also protect the eyes from high intensities of light. Unfortunately, most "one size fits all" safety goggles or glasses are too big for the average woman. Without smaller sized safety eyewear, many women be left exposed to particles, chemicals, and other harmful substances.

When selecting a safety goggles make sure that:

  • It will protect the eyes from any hazards encountered on the job
  • The side shields do not obstruct peripheral vision
  • The safety goggles are secure and comfortable
  • They will not slide down, there are no gaps, and are sealed against the face
  • There is an adjustable strap, depending on the type of eyewear

Tips on safe use and maintenance:

  • When not in use, store safety googles in the proper case to prevent it from getting damaged
  • Inspect the lenses daily for cracks and scratches
  • Clean the lenses daily, following the manufacturer’s instructions
  • Repair or replace safety goggles when they are scratched, cracked, or broken

Ear Safety

There are two basic types of hearing protection devices: earplugs and earmuffs. Earmuffs are ideal for workers who move in and out of noisy work areas, while earplugs are best suited for workers who work in hot, humid, or confined environments. Pre-molded earplugs are uncomfortable for most women because they have smaller ear canals, and they prefer disposable foam earplugs that contour to give a more comfortable fit.

When selecting a hearing protection device make sure that:

  • It feels comfortable enough to be worn throughout the work day
  • It will provide adequate protection against the noise levels in your workplace
  • For earplugs, it will provide a tight seal within the ear canal
  • For earmuffs, it will provide a tight seal against the side of the head and has a headband that fits snugly over the head

Tips on safe use and maintenance:

  • Check hearing protection devices daily for signs of wear and tear
  • Ensure that hands are clean when inserting earplugs
  • Replace hearing protection devices if worn or damaged
  • Discard disposable earplugs after each use
  • Replace reusable earplugs every six months
  • Replace earmuffs every year
  • Follow the manufacturer’s direction for proper care and storage of your hearing protection devices

One Size Does Not Fit All

Everyone should be able to find safety products that fit them comfortably and keep them safe. Let your distributor know that you need PPE that fits the women in your workforce and don't settle for equipment that doesn't. All it takes is a little awareness and you can make sure that all of your employees are protected.