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  • Writer's pictureSafer Highways

PPE should have ‘specific regulations’ for women, says new campaign

Women across the ground engineering sector are supporting a campaign that aims to change the law around personal protective equipment (PPE) provision for female employees in workplaces.

The petition calls on the government to change the law so that employers are required to consider the “specific needs” of their female employees in respect of PPE and ensure that appropriate PPE is provided.

Current regulations require employers to provide suitable PPE to employees who may be exposed to a risk to their health or safety and say that PPE must take account of ergonomic requirements and be capable of fitting the wearer correctly.

However, in practice, women are often given PPE designed for men that is not suitable for them.

In a survey last year, GE revealed that the majority of respondents from across the ground engineering sector had been provided with PPE that does not fit them at some point in their career.

The survey of 130 women on the Bold as Brass LinkedIn group found that 80% (104) of respondents have been given ill-fitting PPE at work.

It also found that 32% (41) have felt unsafe because their PPE does not fit them correctly, while 28% (36) have been on sites where there is no PPE provision for women at all.

The latest campaign is supported by many members of the Bold as Brass group who argue that men and women do not have the same shaped bodies and therefore smaller men’s items often do not fit women correctly.

They believe it essential that correct-fitting PPE is available for the health and safety of female employees and should take into consideration special requirements for pregnancy, menstruation, menopause and modesty.

“The lack of availability of women's PPE in the workplace is quite frankly embarrassing in 2024,” Atkins Réalis engineering geologist Jane Middleton who is a member of the group told GE.

“I believe that every individual has the right to access well-fitting protective equipment that enables them to carry out their work safely. I have found that although many employers include women's PPE in their catalogue, it is seldom in stock or available to order.”

Middleton, who is strongly supportive of the petition, hopes that it will lead to new female graduates having access to correctly fitting PPE “from day one of their employment” and that PPE will be made “readily available across all employers and all industries, with no comments on the cost”.

The petition follows other campaigns that in recent months have won major new gains for women in construction on the issue of badly fitting PPE.

A campaign by the Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB) called #PPEthatfits and research published by the National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC Yorkshire) about the availability of PPE for women have led the Considerate Constructors Scheme to mandate the provision of women’s PPE on sites.

The Considerate Constructors Scheme, an independently managed organisation that supports and guides positive change in the construction industry, has a checklist of expectations and standards for businesses across the construction sector.

One of these expectations is now that “registered activity must maintain administrative controls for health and safety, including providing suitable PPE in female sizes”.

New ground has also been broken for women working in construction who wear headscarves thanks to the work of Severn Trent water quality scientist Aminah Shafiq, who has created what is believed to be the first inclusive PPE hijab, the BBC has reported.

The garment has been developed in collaboration with UK workwear manufacturer Pulsar and is now available in several countries.

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