The problem with unisex safety equipment

She's Empowered

By Kym Clark, founder of She’s Empowered*
Tuesday, 06 October, 2015

The problem with unisex safety equipment

Imagine you’re an electrician on a multimillion-dollar project. You’ve got 5 years’ experience and you’re highly competent. Despite this, you cringe every time you’re tasked with a working-at-heights job. This fear isn’t related to working in challenging environments but rather being forced to do so using potentially unsafe and uncomfortable unisex equipment.

According to retail giant American Apparel, unisex wear is: “… equally flattering and functional on men and women and that all unisex products are sized for men; women may prefer to order one size smaller”. This definition won’t come as a surprise to many — it’s basically common sense. Keeping this in mind, is it safe to assume that women are disadvantaged with personal protective equipment (PPE) mostly designed and available in men’s or unisex styles?

PPE and clothing are necessities, especially when working in high-risk environments such as in the construction, mining and transportation industries.

Correct education and PPE is essential to ensure workers feel safe and competent in order to complete tasks in a safe and timely manner. Women, it appears, seem to be at a disadvantage when it comes to organisations providing adequate-fitting PPE solutions.

Women face challenges finding their size in a variety of items, including fall-arrest harnesses, gloves and hard hats. We won’t even begin to mention the issues faced finding basic items such as boots, cargo pants and overalls.

According to anthropometric studies, women typically have more flexibility in their hips, significantly slender hands and feet, and differentiating face shapes. Taking the above into consideration, employers must be sure to accommodate different body types and compositions. For instance, women look for three key features in falls arrest harnesses:

  1. Shoulder straps that are kept to the side.
  2. Front positioning loop and back/leg pads for better hip support.
  3. Stretchable webbing so there is no bunching, binding or kicking.

The unisex and one-size-fits-all model for PPE is not acceptable in many circumstances.

Unfortunately, women are still required to make do with men’s or unisex products. Some women are hesitant to draw attention to themselves by speaking up and are putting their safety at risk.

With women’s participation rates in non-traditional roles on the rise, now is the time for businesses to stand up for women’s safety. It’s imperative that an adequate selection of gender-appropriate equipment is available to accommodate different body compositions, which will ultimately result in best safety practices.

*She’s Empowered (SE) has consulted with inspiring women at the coalface in industry to design products that suit their needs. The company stocks a range of high-vis maternity solutions and will soon be releasing its Alice cargo pant, which features a cut-to-fit leg lengthening system that prevents tripping hazards caused by incorrect hem lengths.

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