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July 10, 2024

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The ingredients of inclusive PPE footwear

The PPE sector is evolving at pace, with new innovations in constant development, from the incorporation of smart technology to the introduction of sustainable materials to reduce waste and emissions in the production of PPE. However the team at Haix says that despite this progress, there remains a prominent issue facing a large cohort of the workforce – the availability of inclusive PPE, or rather the lack of. 

The prevalence of non-inclusive PPE is seen across multiple sectors. Taking construction for example, 60% of employers do not provide women-specific PPE and over 40% of employees believes that ill-fitting PPE has negatively impacted their career. The issue of inclusive PPE has gained public momentum in recent years with the launch of multiple campaigns, such as the CIOB’s ‘#PPEthatfits’ and SHP’s ‘Protection for everyone’, that highlight the challenges and barriers women face when attempting to access PPE that is compatible with body shape and size.

This issue is also being addressed on a political scale with Labour MP, Emma Hardy, introducing the ‘Personal Protective Equipment at Work (Protected Characteristics) Bill.’ This bill would require employers to ensure that PPE provided to workers considers protected characteristics, guaranteeing a suitable fit for all wearers.

Proper fitting PPE is crucial not only for diversity and inclusion but also performance and health. Ill-fitting PPE can cause immediate issues like discomfort and restricted mobility, increasing the risk of workplace accidents such as slips, trips, and falls. Long-term use of poorly fitting PPE can also lead to musculoskeletal health problems, highlighting the need for well-designed, gender-specific protective equipment to ensure worker safety and health.

What is inclusive PPE?

PPE footwear is the most common PPE item worn by women (71%). As a result, it is imperative that the sourcing and procurement of PPE footwear takes into consideration the key factors of differentiation between men and women’s fit PPE footwear. These characteristics include:

  • Shape and Size: In addition to women typically having smaller feet than men, foot shape tends to be narrower
  • Arch Support: Men and women have different arch structure, with women typically having higher arches
  • Heel and Ankle Fit: Women typically have a narrower heel and ankle than men

Inclusive PPE and procurement

firefighterWhen it comes to procurement, there are many factors which impact the decision-making process such as cost and quality. Nevertheless, the above requirements must be available to cater for the growing cohort of women joining the workforce in what are considered traditionally male industries, like firefighting.

One such firefighter is Amy Lynex, a Fire Crew Manager based in Gloucester who has been firefighting for six years. Gloucestershire Fire and Rescue Service has the highest number of females in any force across the UK, but despite this, finding appropriate PPE, especially footwear and gloves, is still a struggle for many women in the service.

“As a public entity, fire services have to prioritise equipment choice based on cost due to budget constraints and I’ve found that this can lead to footwear not fitting well and being of limited quality. For example, there have been instances where footwear is not available in smaller sizes suitable for females. When you are wearing an ill-fitting boot, you can feel your foot slipping around and it increases the risk of slips, trips and falls as well as causing rubbing and blisters and feeling generally very uncomfortable.”

Never compromise on quality

It is also crucial that accommodating for women’s specifications does not compromise the quality of the product. Manufacturers should prioritise quality, designing products that are suitable for a diverse set of applications. Ensuring footwear undergoes a thorough series of quality assurance tests is equally important, including tasks that simulate day-to-day challenges faced by workers who spend most of the day on their feet. Boots should be guaranteed by the primary safety standards of:

  • EN:ISO 20345:2011 – Safety Footwear
  • EN ISO 20347:2012 – Occupational (Professional) Footwear

The latest footwear standard EN ISO 20345:2022 has been given a transition period up to 11 November 2024, during which time, both the old and new standards have a presumption of conformity with the regulation and can be used for certification. There is no need to renew existing certificates, they can continue to be used until their natural expiry date. Any new certification to the old norm EN ISO 20345:2011 or EN ISO 20347:2012 made before that date in November 2024 will be given a full 5-year validity.

These certifications guarantee that footwear meets essential professional standards based on testing across various components such as upper, lining, tongue, outsole, insole, inlay sole, and the overall footwear. The latest revised update EN ISO 20345:2022, now Europe-wide, also includes updated tests for puncture and slip resistance, ladder grips, scuff caps, enhancing overall safety against slips and trips.

PPE plays a vital role in the health and safety of workers. However, the lack of proper fitting PPE for women increases risks. While regulation slowly progresses to introduce new standards, organisations must prioritise inclusive PPE within the procurement process.

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G Henderson
G Henderson
6 days ago

“As a public entity, fire services have to prioritise equipment choice based on cost due to budget constraints…” Sounds like a Crown Censure is needed…

Lionel Rees
Lionel Rees
6 days ago

ISO 20345 is not 2011 it is now 2022.
If you are going to create articles advising us on requirements check your facts first.

Mark Glover - SHP Editor
Mark Glover - SHP Editor
6 days ago
Reply to  Lionel Rees

Thanks for this Lionel. We noted that the paragraph after refers to the latest standards. Have a good day.

Last edited 6 days ago by Mark Glover - SHP Editor