According to the United States Department of Labor, 30 years ago, women made up only one-third of the working force. Fast forward to the present, the working force currently comprises of more than 50 percent women. This increase in the number of women in the workplace has give rise to specific employment equality issues. One of the most critical employment equality issues that women face is the lack of access to proper fitting personal protective equipment (PPE); this is especially pertinent since PPE is one of the last lines of defense for workers against injuries.

PPE for Women

Women encounter more difficulties than men when searching for the right PPE. These difficulties have been attributed to the lack of a full range of PPE sizes and types at the retail, wholesale and distributor levels, as well as the limited knowledge of employers regarding PPE designed for women. PPE cannot protect a worker from hazards encountered in the workplace if it does not fit correctly. Furthermore, PPE designed for men may not fit women properly due to differences in body size, height and composition. Therefore, it is important that women know what to look for when selecting the right PPE.

Head Safety

Hard hats or safety hats are the standard PPE for head protection in the workplace. Hard hats are designed to protect the head from injuries, which may be caused by impact, penetration or electrical shock. Women with smaller heads often have difficulty finding hard hats with a smaller crown strap suspension system. Most times they have to 'make do' with larger sized hard hats. However, some women have found that adding a chin-strap gives a better fit. When selecting a hard hat ensure that:

  • It will protect your head from any hazards that you may encounter in your workplace

  • The handband fits securely

  • There is an adjustable chin-strap *optional

  • The hard hat does not feel too heavy

  • If you have to wear additional PPE, like earmuffs, the selected hard hat will not create an imbalance on the head

Tips on safe use and maintenance:

  • Clean the suspension and shell of your hard hat regularly. Do this using a 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 your hard hat backwards, unless it is designed to be worn that way

  • Replace the outer shell of your hard hat every five years

  • Replace the suspension of your hard hat annually

Eye Safety

Safety glasses and safety goggles are the standard PPE for eye protection in the workplace. They are designed to protect the eyes from debris, dust and other materials, which may cause injuries or diseases. Depending on the job requirements, that might also protect the eyes from high intensities of light. Most 'one size fit all' safety goggles or glasses are too big for the average woman's face. This can be a serious health and safety hazard since the goggles do not seal the face, allowing particles, chemicals and other hazardous substances to enter the eyes. When selecting a safety goggles ensure that:

  • It will protect your eyes from any hazards you may encounter on the job

  • The side shields do not obstruct your peripheral vision

  • The saftey gogles are secure and comfortable

  • Ensure that they will not slide off the face There are no gaps, the safety goggles are sealed against your face

  • There is an adjustable strap *optional

Tips on safe use and maintenance:

  • When not in use, store your safety googles in the proper case to prevent it from damaging

  • Inspect the lenses daily for cracks and scratches before use

  • Clean the lenses daily, following the manufacturer’s instructions provided

  • Repair or replace your safety goggles when scratched, cracked, or broken

Ear Safety

There are two basic types of hearing protection devices. These are 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-moulded earplugs are uncomfortable for most women because they have smaller ear canals. Therefore, most women prefer disposable, foam-made earplugs since they contour to fit their ear canals giving a better, more comfortable fit. When selecting a hearing protection device ensure that:

  • It feels comfortable enough to be worn throughout your 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 your head and that the headband fits snugly over your head. Also be sure that they are not too heavy, as this can cause discomfort over the course of the shift

Tips on safe use and maintenance:

  • Check your hearing protection devices daily before use for signs of wear and tear

  • Ensure that your hands are clean when inserting your earplugs

  • Replace your hearing protection devices if worn or damaged

  • Discard disposable earplugs after each use

  • Replace reusable earplugs every six months

  • Replace your earmuffs every year

  • Follow the manufacturer’s direction for proper care and storage of your hearing protection devices

One Size Does NOT Fit All

When it comes to PPE for women, change is occurring slowly. Everyone should be able to find safety products that fit them comfortably and keep them safe. Occupational hazards specific to women are real. Futhermore, failure to acknowledge these hazards increases women's risk to injuires and illnesses. So follow these simple tips to ensure that you find the right fit for you. For more information on PPE for women, check out PPE for Women: Hand, Foot and Body Safety