Why So Many Women are Unhappy with their Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

Why So Many Women are Unhappy with their Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

07th July 2016

Last week we celebrated National Women in Engineering Day on 23rd June.  The day is the brainchild of Women’s Engineering Society (WES), a professional network of women engineers, scientists and technologists which was founded as long ago as 1919.  WES is dedicated to offering support, inspiration and professional development to women and campaigns to encourage women to participate and achieve as engineers, scientists and leaders.  WES’s mission is to help women to achieve their potential and create a diverse engineering community, ensuring that the UK is a nation in which women are just as likely as men to choose to study and work in engineering and meet the growing demand for engineers in the future.

This year’s National Women in Engineering Day was marked by the unwelcome news that many women are finding it difficult to cope with badly-fitting and uncomfortable personal protective equipment (PPE).  According to a recent survey carried out by Prospect (the largest union in the UK representing engineers), a mere 29% of more than 3,000 respondents reported that the PPE they wear is designed for women.  While 89% of the respondents are required to wear PPE at work, this means that the majority of women in engineering jobs are wearing PPE that they don’t feel comfortable in which is surely a huge disadvantage for them.

Trousers and overalls were deemed to be the worst offenders when it came to sizing and 60% of those surveyed claim that their PPE sometimes significantly hampers their ability to do their job.  There were numerous complaints from women working in emergency services who say that their stab vests don’t fit properly!  Alarmingly, 28% of the women claimed that they have experience derogatory and offensive comments while wearing their PPE, including comparisons with MC Hammer, a sack of potatoes, Sponge Bob Square Pants, Robocop, an Umpa Lumpa and a Teletubby.  

This type of bullying behaviour is bound to have an adverse effect on women and on the organisation in which they work.  Some women said that work had been delayed while special requests have been made for PPE that fits them properly.  One women admitted that she took time off sick whilst pregnant because she couldn’t face the humiliation she felt once her PPE had become even more badly fitting due to her bump.  

Some women claimed that their PPE is so uncomfortable to wear that they simply don’t wear it – an unacceptable situation which puts them at risk.  Some of the respondents even believe that the badly fitting PPE is causing permanent physical damage.  According to 99% of respondents their employers pay for their PPE but responsibility for looking after it varies by sector.  When asked about what could be improved when it comes to PPE women were unequivocal in asking for:

  • An equivalent range of options in women’s sizes as in men’s as standard
  • An appropriate and accurate measuring system and a place where the PPE can be tried on to check for correct fit.

If more women are to be attracted to the construction industry, whether as engineer or in any other capacity, solving the problems they experience with PPE is vital.  This looks like a huge business opportunity just waiting to be grabbed.