November 14, 2023

Get the SHP newsletter

Daily health and safety news, job alerts and resources


Time for change

Ill-fitting PPE can create more risk than protection, and more embarrassment than motivation, says Nadia Hayes Senior Category Manager at RS Safety Solutions.

The issue of ill-fitting PPE is gaining ground, and one that RS has been championing for a while, particularly when it comes to womenswear. We held a women’s PPE event earlier this year at our Corby-based headquarters, and heard from organisations that utilise PPE. Across industries from construction and manufacturing through to engineering and food processing, representatives told us how they are becoming more aware of the damage of ill-fitting PPE and the impact of it on the safety and morale of employees, as well as regulatory compliance for the business.

The mind doesn’t have to wander too far or the imagination be stretched too much to imagine the many dangers ill-fitting equipment poses. In a scenario where poor-fitting clothes or gloves are supplied, proper body movement and hand dexterity or grip can be adversely affected. In the case of clothing or items that are too large, there is a real risk of excess material being caught up in machinery – an accident waiting to happen.

The psychological effects can also be far-reaching. If an employee doesn’t feel safe and protected in their role, how can they perform at their optimum level? If a woman wearing a small men’s size garment, because that is all that is available to her, feels self-conscious in oversized workwear, how can that not be detrimental to morale?

Start affecting change

In reality, we all know why badly fitting PPE is dangerous, uncomfortable, demotivating and embarrassing, but we now need to move beyond recognition of the issue and start acting to effect change.

Employers in businesses that require PPE should be exploring the ranges available for their employees; while manufacturers should be exploring the opportunity to develop new ranges to suit the varying sizes and shapes of both men and women. Some are already doing so: great strides (no pun intended) are being made in footwear, with brands like Uvex going beyond the ‘pink it and shrink it’ approach and developing footwear that is representative of the very different shapes of women’s feet. Sioen is also offering a great range of women’s workwear to ensure women feel protected and comfortable at work.

But we all recognise that wider choice is needed. How can we begin to tackle the very real issue of attracting diverse talent to industries that struggle to do so – many of which are male-dominated – if we can’t even provide the very basic requirement of PPE that fits?

Distributors need to ensure they are working with manufacturers to be able to bring a full and varied range of PPE to suit all shapes and sizes to the attention of the organisations that buy them.

At RS, we’re passionate about doing this, and, as mentioned, it’s an issue that’s been on our radar for many years. The launch of our Safety Solutions offering significantly expanded our PPE capability and gave us a bigger incentive and a prominent platform from which to champion the cause. As a result, we work closely with manufacturers to highlight this very real and important issue. Our event in Corby specifically focused on ill-fitting women’s PPE wear and our customers shared the experiences, concerns and issues affecting them. We also invited some of the manufacturers pioneering the development of inclusive PPE to further raise awareness of what they are working on to resolve the issues.


It was disheartening to hear from women who work in industries that require them to wear PPE, who obviously want to be treated the same as their male counterparts, but feel hindered in this by the ill-fitting equipment they have to wear. We heard one attendee make the very strong point that most of her day is spent in workwear, so it should fit well and be comfortable. It seemed obvious, but at the same time enlightening. Listening to many of the women echoing the desire for more choice of different body shapes and eradication of fit issues just affirmed how big an issue this is, and how many people it is affecting.

But this event was neither the start of our efforts and nor will it be the end. Like any culture change, it will take dedication and time to effect, and it can’t be done alone. While we are in a great position as a major PPE player to drive innovation, collaboration on all sides (from designers and manufacturers through to end-users) is needed to ensure we don’t simply pay lip service to the issue.

We plan to work with as many organisations we can: manufacturers, suppliers, customers, and indeed the media, to keep this issue at the forefront of the industry and work to effect change in a tangible way. We must continue to support this cause to ensure women are not deterred from entering industries, because something as basic as not being provided with correctly-fitted clothing is a barrier. We’ll continue our work with manufacturers to ensure we’re abreast of new lines of women’s PPE wear coming to market.

Return on investment

From the work we have done in this area so far we are confident that, while still in relative infancy in terms of solutions, this is an issue many industry players on all sides want to tackle. If nothing else, the requirement to safeguard the PPE and workwear industry must be a consideration. This, coupled with the need to continue to pave the way for diverse talent to enter industries where skills shortages are a very real threat, should be incentive enough, and offer industry players peace of mind there will be a return on their investment.

Related Topics

Notify of

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments