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January 9, 2024

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‘My feet slid around and my legs hurt from gripping my toes’: Jane Middleton on ill-fitting PPE

The Chartered Engineering Geologist has to privately source boots and tailor men’s trousers just to go to work. 

On my very first day in an exciting new job, in a position I had worked hard to achieve, I went to the company’s PPE store cupboard and was unable to find anything that would fit. In fact, for two years I just assumed women’s PPE wasn’t available.


I had to endure the effects of poor-fitting boots, where my feet slid around and my legs hurt from gripping my toes, which would also bump on the end of the boot as there was so much room; this, despite wearing several pairs of socks. This year though, I have personally trialled a set of women’s boots through a private supplier (Amblers Safety Boots) which have been a game-changer. This is the first time I’ve used boots that are based on a woman’s foot, which are narrower than men’s, and they fit well. My foot is no longer sliding around, and they are so much more comfortable.

When it comes to trousers, I have to wear men’s (again owing to the lack of women’s sizes), however, I find my thighs and hips are too wide for a small, so I have to go up in size which requires me to tailor the length. When I first began my career I would cut off the bottom of the larger trousers, making me look like I was wearing something my Dad would put on. It would make me feel extremely self-conscious. Even today, I am unable to find waterproof trousers that fit so I continue to have to customise them to take up the length. In the summer, I wear long-sleeved yellow tops, which I find can go see-through which means I have to consider what underwear I have on to ensure it isn’t showing.


I find wearing well-fitting PPE gains more respect among colleagues and peers, particularly when I’m meeting a team for the first time (after all first impressions count). I’m conscious of looking like I’ve never been on-site before and that people would assume I have little experience. This is important because when I am the manager on-site, I am often accompanied by a man (who the team will still look to this man when speaking) despite my seniority.


If I could change things, I would like to see women’s PPE readily available on company suppliers’ websites, and there should also be more range in-store ranges. I would also like to choose freely available products, rather than having to purchase them privately. I would also like to see general awareness around the issue increase. I find when mentioning this to men, for example, they are just not aware of it. This would take away from some of the stigma that women feel about kicking up a fuss or asking for stuff that fits. I’m sure the men would do the same!

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