Making PPE the Right Fit for All

Personal protective equipment is designed to minimize exposure to hazards that cause serious workplace injuries and illnesses. But it cannot do its job if it doesn’t fit properly. One of the challenges facing workers with various body types and sizes, especially women in the construction industry, is finding the right PPE that works for them. A survey by The Center for Construction Research and Training found that 77% of 174 tradeswomen said they were exposed to unnecessary hazards because of ill-fitting PPE.

It’s not hard to see why. A safety manager may wear protective clothing that is too long, presenting a tripping hazard and falls while working on a job site. A carpenter may put on gloves that are too big that could get caught in machinery and later cut their hand or finger. A sprinkler fitter could ignore that their safety glasses are not properly secured, leaving them unprotected from chemicals or dust.
That’s why the Occupational Safety and Health Administration issued a notice of proposed rulemaking to revise the current personal protective equipment standard in construction. Unlike the general industry and maritime standards, the current industry standard does not clearly state that PPE must adequately fit each affected employee. The proposed change would require that equipment fit each affected employee properly to protect them from occupational hazards.
Access to PPE that fits has always been an important safety and health issue for women working in construction. Because women make up about 10% of the construction workforce, many protective equipment manufacturers are reluctant to invest in research and development to produce correctly sized and proportioned products for them.
For years, manufacturers and suppliers have produced and sold protective equipment designed to fit average-sized men. As a result, women either have used PPE that did not adequately protect them or stopped using PPE because the improper fit was uncomfortable.
Workers of any gender or size should not have to choose between their safety and wearing ill-fitting PPE. Making sure that safety gear properly fits every employee and that they are trained on how to use it will help employers provide safe and equitable workplaces.
Our proposed rulemaking is a critical step in addressing the problem of gender and body type disparity in the availability of properly fitted personal protective equipment in the construction industry, and we welcome your input on how to ensure PPE fits and protects the person wearing it.

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