PPE (personal protective equipment) is not a modern concept. Incorporating safety features into clothing to ensure that the workforce is protected from harm has been common practice for centuries. However, some believe it's still behind the times, with most workplace PPE based on generic data.
What does this mean?
Essentially, this means that PPE does not fully reflect modern body frames - protective equipment is traditionally designed for men, which causes a number of issues for women. The most obvious difference is a woman’s chest area, but there are many subtle differences between the genders: women’s feet tend to be narrower than men’s, so a small male shoe will not fit a woman’s foot firmly enough for her to be sure of her footing. There are also differences in hip and waist ratios, and even in the size and shape of male and female faces, with male faces tending to be broad across the jaw and squarish, while female jawlines are narrower and tend to taper down to the chin. This means that face masks and respirators designed for male faces may not fit snugly onto female faces, exposing them to the risk of breathing in fumes and harmful vapours.
Understanding different diversity models
Pregnancy also changes the shape of a woman’s body, and few male garments would stretch over a 7 or 8-month baby bump. Other diversity models that need to be examined include those of different religions. Employees may need to keep their arms and legs covered for modesty reasons. Finally, disabled workers may also have special requirements from their safety clothing.
All these groups of people should be taken into account when planning and choosing workwear and uniforms.
Designed to make life safer and more comfortable for pregnant women at work, our partner Leo Workwear have introduced the first stocked maternity garments conforming to high visibility standard ISO 20471. This standard covers the requirements for the base fabric colour, minimum areas for reflectivity, and placement of tape. Features include an elasticated over-bump band and waist adjustment on the cargo trousers and elasticated side seams on the polo shirts, so the garments can be worn throughout the wearer’s pregnancy.
Is there a solution?
It is worth noting however that while growing, the number of women in construction currently is only around the 13% mark.
People who feel uncomfortable or embarrassed about what they are wearing are less likely to perform well, or be engaged with their company. They may even feel discriminated against, particularly if apparently little or no effort has been made by their employer to cater for their needs. We work with suppliers who consider this as a key part of their offer. (This includes the extensive work that Mascot have done into understanding women's sizes and creating a new size regime to reflect this in their recently launched accelerate range - creating a diamond and pearl range of sizes).
Fortunately, there are now maternity trousers in hi-vis fabrics, safety boots with narrower fittings that do not compromise the footing of the wearer, and in addition to hi-vis maternity wear (shown above), our partner Leo Workwear offer tunics that satisfy modesty requirements.
Ask your team
Speak to your workforce about their individual needs today. At HeathBrook, we look to work with suppliers that consider all employees so you can ensure they're safe while at work. If you'd like to find out more, contact us today.