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The PPE designed for men causing problems for women

The issue of shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE) has been news headlines throughout the current COVID-19 pandemic, particularly for front line workers in the NHS and care homes.

What has not made as many headlines, is that those same front line workers, particularly females, are not getting correctly fitted PPE. It seems that for as long as PPE has been made, it has been designed for men and not for women.

Traditionally, any PPE was designed for men, because manual workers were mainly men. But now we live in a more equal society, and the PPE has not changed.

Most PPE is marketed as unisex. This pandemic has proved this is not the case. Women make up 77% of NHS workers, yet it seems that much of the PPE provided has come in two sizes. Even small nitrile or vinyl gloves are too big for many women.

According to BBC radio, NHS workers on the front line have been face fitted for the correct masks, however when a suitable mask has not been available, these women, highly trained, have been in some instances moved to other wards, or given incorrect fitted masks to wear. The masks are designed for men.

For several years, the police have issued a standard stab vest, again classed as unisex, but designed initially for men. The design does not take into account the shape of women, so the vest does not cover all the abdomen or neck area properly - the areas most prone to attack with lethal consequences.

Employers, and manufacturers and suppliers of PPE need to realise that one size, one shape does not fit all. If we want equality in the workplace, then we need equality in health and safety in the workplace. And we need comfortable, good fitting personal protective equipment for all too. In the modern workplace, women need protecting as much as men. It's time to treat them equal too with the protection they are given.

  • KSH Safety Services has an e-learning course about Personal Protective Equipment, when and how to wear it. Find out more here.