March 28, 2024

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Inclusive PPE

Beth Holroyd: ‘PPE that’s not designed with women in mind is a fundamental problem’

Beth Holroyd shares her experience with ill-fitting PPE, and explains how catering for all not only enhances safety at work, but happiness and wellbeing too. 

My career in the construction industry started out as an apprentice like many others, I was so excited to have got a ‘foot in the door’ and couldn’t wait to start applying what I had learnt at college to real life projects.

As I settled into my role, and got to grips with meetings, drafting plans and risk assessments – I quickly encountered challenges with ill-fitting PPE.

My employer at the time failed to provide gear that suited my smaller frame. At just 17 years old, I lacked the confidence to push back against this oversight.

I was asked to work on the road network and was originally given a medium-sized jacket and trousers that were part of a ‘bank’ of PPE available for the office to share – both absolutely drowned me, and I had to roll my trousers and sleeves up – which completely opposes the ‘personal’ part of PPE.

Thankfully, my college stepped in; purchasing boots, trousers, and gloves that fit me properly. These ill-fitting garments made tasks more challenging and were painful as the boots were too big and clumpy, leading to blisters and putting me at unnecessary risk. This issue continued into my career where other employers failed to provide kit that was suitable.

On the flip side of this, when managing construction projects on harbours for a local authority, there were no suitable mariner jackets available in my size, but to have a custom jacket made for me 10 years ago cost the company over £700 at the time, which was more than double what their standard jackets cost.

Last line of defence

Just as an office provides a secure and comfortable environment for employees to carry out their work, personal protective equipment (PPE) functions similarly for individuals that are required to work in hazardous environments.

PPE is the last line of defence in the hierarchy of hazard controls. Organisations need to ensure that workers feel secure, protected, and at ease while performing their duties – but are also visible to those operating around them.

In addition to suitable fitting PPE, comfort is a key aspect of well-designed PPE that fits properly and doesn’t impede movement – it ensures that workers can perform their tasks comfortably for extended periods promoting their overall well-being and productivity.

A larger issue

My experiences reflect a larger issue within the construction industry. PPE that’s not designed with women in mind is a fundamental problem, especially as we strive to attract more women and girls into the industry.

Without gear that fits properly, women are left at a disadvantage and their safety is compromised. Additionally, it doesn’t create a sense of belonging that is so important to their wellbeing. Frustratingly, PPE suitable for women does exist, there are a number of suppliers out there – the issue is with organisations procuring this.

It shouldn’t be down to the individuals heading to site having to push back – organisations’ safety professionals need to be doing more to educate their teams and work with operational staff to understand what is suitable so the right kit is ordered.

I understand that kit can be expensive, but by investing in better kit in the first place (e.g for the likes of goretex where staff are outside in all weathers), means it will be better quality and will therefore last longer with less costs involved for replacements. Plus, staff are more comfortable and ultimately,  safer doing their tasks.

It’s crucial that we address this issue head-on and I wholeheartedly support campaigns like SHP’s Inclusive PPE Campaign. By providing PPE that fits women properly, we not only ensure their safety but also pave the way for increased diversity and representation within the construction industry.

Protection for Everyone - SHP's Inclusive PPE Campaign

SHP is running a campaign to bring awareness around the issues of ill-fitting PPE and lobby Government to bring about change.

We'll work alongside a range of stakeholders including suppliers and distributors, industry bodies, and, importantly, those who have experienced ill-fitting PPE.

Please contact us ([email protected]) to get involved, share your stories and support a campaign that affects everyone!

Click here to find out more!

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Nigel Day
Nigel Day
20 days ago

100% agree with the sentiment of your article, however the title, “PPE that is not designed with women in mind is a fundemental problem” misses the actual problem. There are many PPE manufacturers who design, develop and produce a wide range of PPE designed to fit the shapes, sizes and styles for both male and female wearers. The major problem is with employers not recognising the need for PPE to suitable for the task, the environment AND THE WEARER! Please can we have less of manufacturer bashing and more employer bashing.

Beth Holroyd
Beth Holroyd
20 days ago
Reply to  Nigel Day

HI Nigel, thanks for the feedback – agree with your comments and just talking from my own experiences as PPE didn’t used to be designed specifically for women and this was an issue for me early in my career. Totally agree RE employers not sourcing correct PPE though hence my comment around: ‘organisations’ safety professionals need to be doing more to educate their teams and work with operational staff to understand what is suitable so the right kit is ordered.’ Thanks for the feedback

Mr Ian Wightman
Mr Ian Wightman
20 days ago

Excuse me but it’s not just woment that have to endure this problem, this issue also affects males of smaller stature and has been a problem for years in the construction and civils industry.

Mark Glover - SHP Editor
Admin
Mark Glover - SHP Editor
20 days ago

Hi Ian, thanks so much for your comment – it’s always good to hear from our readers. Yes, I totally agree which is why we have SHP has an Inclusive PPE campaign which covers male, female, those of religious backgrounds etc..Inclusive PPE – SHP – Health and Safety News, Legislation, PPE, CPD and Resources (shponline.co.uk), which I know Beth supports.PS We are keen to hear from men in this regard so do please get in touch.
[email protected]

Beth Holroyd
Beth Holroyd
20 days ago

HI Ian, support your comment – I’ve spoken from my experience only but do fully back the campaign to ensure everyone has suitably fitted PPE

NigelDay
NigelDay
20 days ago
Reply to  Beth Holroyd

Agree!
Forgive my paraphrasing, amongst safety professionals, the PPE at Work Regs talk about ‘adequate’ for protection, and ‘suitable’ for the task, activity, environment and the Wearer!

NigelDay
NigelDay
20 days ago

Agree. Almost everyone can put a size 11 glove, not many can wear it!

Karl Simons
Karl Simons
19 days ago

Great article Beth on such an important topic!