PPE for Women

We've Come a Long Way

Feb 26, 2019

Women make up nearly one-third of the manufacturing workforce in the United States. They play a number of roles in the industry, from working on the production line to running their own manufacturing businesses, and although they account for nearly half of the working population (47.5 percent), women remain underrepresented in the manufacturing industry.

Arguably one of the bigger challenges facing women in this industry is the availability of properly-fitting PPE, or personal protective equipment.  A few years ago, ISEA sponsored a display of PPE specifically for women at a union-sponsored conference in Washington.  There, they discovered that a majority of the female workers in attendance were not aware that products were available in different sizes and configurations for women.  Most PPE was initially designed for men, and it requires more than merely reducing its size to make it suitable for women.  Here are three pertinent examples where smaller does not necessarily work:

  • A woman with a small face wears goggles available in the shop. The gaps at her temples allow flying debris from her machine to enter her eyes.
  • A woman who wears boots designed for men's feet complains of tripping while walking, climbing stairs, or scaling ladders. She suffers from blisters and burning on the soles of her feet.
  • A woman's hands are smaller — she has shorter, narrower fingers, and a smaller palm circumference — so even a man's small glove often does not fit snugly.

To combat these difficulties, companies like Charm and Hammer and SafetyGirl provide many options in PPE specifically made for women, including: eye protection, work gloves, hard hats, tool belts, overalls, Dickies, and footwear.  In addition, HauteWork provides flame resistant clothing (FRC) made specifically for female workers.  ISEA, working with an OSHA advisory committee, provides information about and access to personal protective equipment that is sized, designed and styled for women. 

Advances in technology continue to change the way goods are produced, making it extremely likely that the number of women in this industry will grow in years to come.  The Women in Construction Work Group of OSHA's Advisory Committee on Construction Safety and Health is committed to seeking ways to inform employers, employees and OSHA itself of the availability of PPE for women.

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