Tripping over due to oversized boots, limited range of movement due to ill-fitting high visibility trousers, and difficulty in adjusting harnesses to fit, all these are situations that women in the construction industry will know all too well. It has been found that 74% of all personal protective equipment (PPE) is designed for men, women are repeatedly being put in danger. Whether the danger is coming from the site hazards, which their PPE is not reducing the risk of, or even that their PPE is increasing the risk of unrelated hazards. 

PPE designed specifically for women has been available on the market for decades in the UK, yet 59.6% of employers are not providing it, why are women missing out?

A significant chunk of PPE is created using the anatomical data of average white men in the 1950s and 1970s. Not only is the data outdated, but even the measurements of the average men are vastly different in 2024, compared to the 50s and 70s. This data means that women, people from ethnic minorities, and men who don’t fit the outdated average measurements, are likely to struggle to find PPE that fits them. Ill-fitting workwear is not just an issue in the construction industry, similar findings have been found in the renewable energy industry, emergency services industry, the healthcare industry, and even with our female athletes.

The National Association of Women in Construction for Yorkshire (NAWIC Yorkshire) are working to raise awareness of the issues surrounding ill-fitting PPE, and encouraging employers to take this seriously, and provide PPE that fits. NAWIC Yorkshire are working with a number of the UK’s major construction frameworks, health and safety accreditations, industry bodies, associations and federations, as well as individual manufacturers, suppliers and contractors, in order to empower change in the construction industry.

NAWIC Yorkshire undertook a research piece in 2023, which found that the main barriers to the effective supply of women’s PPE included: uplift in cost of women’s PPE compared to men’s PPE, difficulty in finding suppliers, longer delivery times due to items not being kept in stock, managers being reluctant to seek out women’s PPE, the stigma that PPE is “one size fits all”, and limited availability of different sizes for women.

The main barrier of cost uplift is hardly surprising considering that women’s PPE does costs more than men’s PPE. However, organisations should not be placing profit ahead of safety.

By raising awareness of the availability of women’s PPE and the suppliers that are stocking it, and providing our female workforce with suitable PPE, we can collectively help to reduce the cost and delivery time difference. By increasing demand, this will put pressure on suppliers and manufacturers to create and stock these items, in larger quantities, but also in a larger variety of sizes too.

The construction industry is renowned for being reactive to change, instead of being proactive and preventing issues from happening. We have an opportunity to change this and lead the way in the provision of women’s PPE.

But ultimately, the problem will not be solved until the regulatory agencies for health and safety take this seriously and tighten up the standards on PPE to accommodate for gender, the individual’s range of motion and sizing, as well as individual requirements in terms of health (including pregnancy, menopause, menstruation, as well as disabilities too). 

PPE stands for personal protective equipment, let’s take it personally.