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North Sea chief speaks out over PPE fears for women offshore

Calls are being made to address women working offshore in the North Sea facing risk due to poorly-fitting PPE safety gear.

Offshore Energies UK (OEUK) chief executive Deirdre Michie has urged workers not to be afraid to speak up on this long-standing issue if they encounter gender bias around the size and safety of their workwear.

Specialist provider Red Wing, based at Altens Industrial Estate in Aberdeen, said women working offshore were being put at risk by being given men’s personal protective equipment (PPE), with many having to roll-up coverall legs and sleeves which could lead to it getting snagged in machinery, as well as long trousers resulting in slips, trips and falls.

Bias in oil and gas sector

Ms Michie said: “Like many other people, I have faced bias, both overtly and unconsciously, and I think that’s because it exists in society and it exists within our sector.

“I’d urge people to feel confident that when you see bias, it is appropriate to challenge it.

“Being prepared to call it out in a thoughtful way is the right thing to do, because if you don’t, that person will continue to do it, either because they choose to or because they just don’t understand the implications of what they’re doing.”

Gender PPE gap “very real”

Since launching its Right Fit campaign last year, Red Wing’s Aberdeen distribution hub has reported a 35% rise in the number of offshore customers providing women’s fit coveralls.

Despite the success of the campaign so far the company says there is still a long way to go to tackle the issue which has existed across many industries for generations.

Ms Michie said campaigns like the Right Fit were important in helping to drive diversity and inclusion across the offshore industry.

She added: “If you want to have a successful sector where people want to come to work, where they are delighted to be part of it, then diversity and inclusion is absolutely crucial to what you do and how you go about it.

“So I’m very proud of the fact it is something that we champion.

“The gender PPE gap is very real and we need to address it. It’s okay to call it out and say, ‘actually this garment doesn’t fit me properly, I need to have clothes that keep me protected’.

“PPE is there for a purpose. It’s there to protect us to keep us safe. But it needs to fit us properly.”

Survey findings highlight problems

The campaign was launched after a survey by the AXIS Network, in partnership with Step Change in Safety, which found that 62% of women said their coveralls didn’t fit effectively, while 51% said their outerwear-jacket wasn’t suitably sized.

Sarah Clark, a programme coordinator with Wood, has experienced poor-fitting PPE on several previous offshore trips.

The 32-year-old, who is also an AXIS network board member, said: “When I went offshore it was always oversized PPE kit.

“I remember all the boys putting paperwork in their chest pocket but when I did that it was like scratching my face.

“The chest pocket sizing just didn’t work.

“I remember getting a pair of boots that fit and I was reluctant to ever let them go because I thought how am I ever going to get a pair that fits again.”

Work still to be done

Ms Clark backed comments made by Ms Michie and believes there is still time for companies to improve.

She said: “I think companies have been on a bit of a journey around education and it probably tied in around the gender pay gap reporting.

“When I went offshore in 2017 there was female fit then but they obviously didn’t stock enough or it was very small made. There was a lack of education.

“I think companies have really taken up the challenge to educate themselves.”

Change needs to be made

Red Wing Europe field marketing specialist Stacey Summers, said: “Right fit has been a conversation that’s been going on in the North Sea for generations, but workers are becoming so much more vocal around the subject, and rightly so.

“The question we’ve been asking ourselves is, why does this challenge still exist?

“Achieving the right fit, particularly with garments, has been challenging for both men and women.

“The industry recognise that women are especially challenged and are accustomed to wearing sized-down men’s PPE.

“In recognition of the impact this has, workers – including men – really come to question why this is the case.

“We have seen a huge appetite from everyone in the PPE supply chain to rectify this problem.

“Some 85% of our Aberdeen customers now feature women’s fit and the products are much more prominently in their catalogues, which is always a great thing, but we are always striving to improve availability across the sector.

“It’s not an aesthetic change in any way, shape or form. To not have the right fit, is putting workers at risk, and we need to make a change.”

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