One Size Does Not Fit All When It Comes to Protective Clothing

By Jessica Barrett
Last updated: November 7, 2018
Key Takeaways

Making sure that a worker’s protective clothing fits them correctly is essential to keeping them safe.


When selecting protective apparel, you'll come across some garments that are labeled "one size fits all." We're here to tell you that this bold claim just isn't true. Sure, the clothing will go over just about any worker's body, but that doesn't mean it will fit properly.

But does it really matter how well it fits as long as it's worn? Yes, it does. Fit is an often-overlooked factor when selecting protective clothing, but it’s an important consideration.


In this article, we’ll explain why giving your workers properly fitted garments isn't just considerate, it's safer.

Why Protective Clothing Needs to Fit Just Right

The keyword here is "compliance."

Survey after survey has found that workers simply don’t want to wear uncomfortable, ill-fitting protective clothing (who can blame them?) If this is what they’re provided with, there’s a good chance they will either refuse to wear it or modify the clothing in some way, which could impact its protective characteristics.

OSHA guidelines state that employers should consider the fit and comfort of PPE when selecting items for their workplace. Doing so might be the best way to boost protective clothing compliance among workers.

Introducing New Hazards

Protective clothing is meant to improve safety outcomes, but garments that don't fit properly can themselves become hazards. Clothing that is too small can restrict movement and prevent the wearer from being able to properly carry out their duties. Items that are too large for the wearer have excess material that can get in the way of manual work or get caught in the moving parts of machines (see Top 5 Warnings for Caught-On and Caught-in-Between Hazards to learn more about these risks).


What You Should Look For

There are two big factors that tend to determine the level of comfort and fit for the worker: size and cut. But some protective garments have design features that go a step further. For example, elastic waistbands and stretch panels under the arms and across the back offer a better fit and help increase the range of motion and freedom of movement.

If possible, talk to your workers to find out what they would like. What features are important to them when it comes to protective clothing? Use that as your starting point.

Protective Clothing for Women

Finding protective clothing that fits women well can be a daunting task. The unfortunate reality is that most PPE is designed for men (OSHA notes that women make up only about 9 percent of the construction industry). There is protective clothing that purports to be unisex, but this is just as questionable as the clothing that claims to be "one size fits all." Men and women differ in average body size, weight, and body composition, so a single garment design isn't likely to work for everyone.

Modifying a men’s garment to fit a woman can be dangerous. Rolled up sleeves or pant legs, for example, mean extra material that can get caught in machinery, cause trips and falls, and generally contribute to a worker's risk of serious injury.

The bottom line is that women should be provided with protective clothing that is specifically made for women. Employers must make an effort to find distributors that cater to this demographic. In cases where women’s protective wear absolutely isn’t available, unisex or men’s clothing should be tailored to a custom fit (learn more about Selecting the Right PPE for Women).

Final Thoughts

The bottom line is this: to do its job, protective clothing must provide adequate protection for the task at hand and fit the wearer correctly. And since every worker is different, it makes sense that their clothing requirements may also vary. Properly fitting protective clothing means greater comfort for workers and a reduced risk of excess fabric getting caught in moving parts or interfering with their work.

While finding apparel that meets each worker’s needs might be slightly more time-consuming than opting for a one-size-fits-all approach, the safety payoffs are well worth the investment.

Check out the rest of our Personal Protective Equipment content here.

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Written by Jessica Barrett

Jessica Barrett

Jessica is a freelance writer and editor from Toronto, Canada. She specializes in creating content for nonprofits and has written for organizations working in human rights, conservation, education, and health care. She loves traveling and food, speaks Spanish, and has two dogs, one of whom she rescued while living in Mexico.

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