Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is an area where, for a long time, there was no clear division into the female and male variants. Historically, occupations that required greater physical strength and endurance or are associated with harmful to health or dangerous working conditions were assigned to men.
This began to change during World War I, many women volunteered to serve in the military and hospital nursing, as well as manufacturing roles. Their protective garments and uniforms were made from fabrics purchased and made at their local drapery shop; these did not provide the protection they required.
However, it was only following World War II that a real change in the lives of working women could be seen. As surveyed by the Ministry of Labour, the percentage of women in industrial jobs went from 19.75% to 27% from 1938 to1945; thedemand for women’s workwear and uniforms soared.
In the modern day, the presence of women in traditionally male occupations is not uncommon. Women-builders, welders and crane operators are increasing in numbers as the attitude towards women working in every sphere is more and more accepted and encouraged.
The development of specifically designed women’s protective garments is a difficult task; accounting for the female form, wearer comfort, and the stringent restrictions of EU Standards. However, the importance of women’s PPE is becoming increasingly important as ill-fitting protective clothing and equipment can mean that women entering certain ‘non-traditional’ fields will be unable to perform efficiently and safely the given tasks of the job.
Women differ from men not only in size but also in shape, and therefore so should the dimensions of their PPE, a ‘unisex’ size extra-small is still unlikely to fit a woman correctly. On average, a woman’s body is shorter in length, their shoulders are narrower and women are usually wider in the hips. Therefore, standard PPE clothing is too long in the torso and sleeves, and if it fits their hips it is unlikely to fit their torso. So a specifically designed female fit is required to produce PPE that does not affect the wearer’s comfort and protection.
Even nowadays it is difficult to find a female version of PPE clothing. According to TUC report, despite a legal duty on bosses to provide the correct Personal Protective Equipment to their staff free of charge, only 3 in 10 women (29%) told a survey that the PPE they wear to keep them safe at work is specifically designed for women. Responses suggested that some items had improved since a 2009 study by the Women’s Engineering Society, but overall the results showed that progress was slow. (Prospect)
More women are working in the Safety industry than ever before, and as leaders in the Market, Bunzl Greenham continue to support the need for specialised PPE, working with manufacturers who continue to push revolution and make the workplace safer for everyone.
One brand pushing revolution in the industry is Leo Workwear. They recognised the need for a ladies’ high visibility clothing range earlier than the most. They were receiving more and more enquiries for small and extra-small garments, which were ultimately being issued to women. According to their extensive market research and wearer trials, it was clear that a successful ladies’ clothing range would need to focus on fit and quality. A lack of choice had meant ladies were being forced to wear ill-fitting and poor-quality garments for too long.
Nick Bale at Leo Workwear has said:
‘When developing our first ladies high visibility clothing range, we felt a responsibility to set the bar high, using only the best fabrics and the latest reflective tape technologies to create four core products in 2016.
We also believed that ensuring great fitting products was more important than simply meeting the highest potential class in high visibility, the garments had to be safe and functional and making them deliberately bigger (as some manufacturers have) to meet higher standards was counter-productive in our eyes.’
Following the success of the first four garments, in 2017 Leo Workwear launched four more products, including the fantastic Softshell Jacket (Now Available at Bunzl Greenham) With more products in development now, this successful range is set to grow further.
Bunzl Greenham has been in partnership with Leo Workwear since 2011 and has helped to promote the introduction of the ladies collection with their successful KeepSafe range since 2016. Recognising Leo’s progressive approach to product innovation, Greenham has continued to promote the womenswear range to their customer as Leo Workwear expand their collection and encourage equality in the workplace.
‘It is the employer’s responsibility to provide suitable gear that is fit for the purpose for which it is required, at no cost to the employee. Employers must also ensure clothing and equipment is maintained, carefully stored and cleaned as needed‘- HSE, Personal Protective Equipment at work.
Employers should actively seek out and choose suppliers that provide a range of sizes suitable for both men and women. If employers still have issues over the suitability of women’s PPE, they should consult with manufacturers and suppliers to remedy any problems.
At Bunzl Greenham, we ensure that women in the workplace are catered for. Our selection of women’s PPE allows employers to select a range of garments designed specifically for women in the workplace. With more and more PPE for women being added to our collection all the time, there will be something to meet your needs. If you require advice or guidance when purchasing, please contact your local Service Centre.
Disclaimer: The information provided through Greenham Pulse is for general guidance only and is not legal advice. Greenham Pulse is not a substitute for Health and Safety consultancy. You should seek independent advice about any legal matter.