Page 66 - OHS, June 2022
P. 66

When PPE is required,
we must not settle for ill-fitting equipment that increases the potential for injury.
Gone are the days when employee health and safety was viewed as just a “trend” or something to track on paper. Rather, employers now embrace and foster safety every single day. Executive leaders are more emotionally invested in the physical and mental well-being of their employees.
Employers can show their support by making a concerted effort to recognize the need created by differences between men and women and addressing those differences to maximize safety and ensuring proper fit.
Head and Face
The physical difference. Men and women differ in skeletal structure, where women frequently have a shorter head and broader face.1
The concern. If employers overlook these differences when selecting hard hats, face shields, welding helmets and safety glasses/goggles, they may inadvertently purchase equipment meant for a man that will undoubtedly create an ill-fit if worn by a woman. Ill-fitting PPE can feel bulky and unbalanced to the wearer, even when adjusted according to the manufacturer. They can cause pinch points, headaches and neck and shoulder strain. Improperly sized PPE in the head and face area can also create gaps in coverage which may allow debris to enter the eyes. Wrong-sized safety glasses can slip down the face and more easily fog up, while also creating soreness in the temples. This can all lead to worker distraction, loss of productivity and removal of PPE all together.
The physical difference. Women typically have shorter legs and a longer trunk, compared to men.2
The concern. Select PPE with the proper size for each employee in mind. Workers may need to wear a full body harness, cold weather coveralls, a welding coat or Tyvek suit, chemical splash apron, or FR shirt and pants. Items not properly worn (due to sizing or other issues) can make the difference between the employee being safely covered or dangerously exposed. Oversized PPE may “drown” the worker in excess material, which creates new hazards such as loose clothing getting caught in machinery or overheating in warmer conditions.
The physical difference. The average length of a male hand is 7.6 inches, while a female’s is 6.8 inches.3
The concern. To be effective, PPE must not only protect against the hazard, but also be worn consistently and correctly. Oversized hand protection (i.e., gloves) can create a loss of dexterity. Too small, and you run the risk of causing undue pressure on the hands and increased perspiration, which can lead to fatigue and related injuries.
The physical difference. There are 11 significant differences in a women’s lower limbs compared with male anatomy (two calf, five ankle and four foot shape variables).4
The concern. Safety shoes and boots designed for a man but worn by a woman cannot guarantee the required level of protection. In one sense, all safety footwear is meant to protect against hazards like corrosive materials, electrical hazards, heavy objects, punctures or molten metal. However, the risks of poorly fitting footwear can lead to repetitive strain injury, poor posture, plantar fasciitis, fallen arches and flat feet. Over time, workers can develop secondary injuries to the knees, hips, spine and even the neck.
The Solution
Regardless of the specific body part, overall, men and women differ in size and shape. Employers must begin to shift their mindset from offering universal fit and the generalities of small, medium and large. It simply is not working.
For PPE to fit appropriately, the employer can make a few adjustments:
Determine if they have a problem. Discuss with employees whether PPE fits appropriately with empathy and an open mind. If the organization does not have a strong safety culture, employees may not want to share their concerns for fear of reprimand. They may also see their individual needs as an added expense that they do not want to burden the company with. On the opposite end of the spectrum, they may not mention a problem because there simply isn’t one! Despite this good news, don’t stop there. Continue to work with employees and collect feedback on the PPE currently in use and whether future enhancements can be made.
Talk with female employees. Discuss current issues with the PPE offered. Discuss areas of potential concern, such as improper fit and discomfort. Determine if they bypass these concerns and
60 Occupational Health & Safety | JUNE 2022

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