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The workplace can be a dangerous place for women. In 2014, 367 women died on the job, according to the 2017 edition of the National Safety Council chartbook “Injury Facts.” That same year, women experienced nearly 350,000 injuries involving days away from work.
Here, industry insiders discuss what’s new to the market and why keeping women in mind when creating PPE is so important.
A common issue women face when it comes to PPE is limited sizes. Often, the PPE available to female workers was designed with a man’s body frame in mind, so it may be too large for a woman. “Employers who go by the ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach are not providing the necessary protection to their workers,” said Katie Mielcarek, marketing manager for Cleveland-based Gateway Safety Inc.
Similarly, Andy Olson, product director for St. Paul, MN-based Ergodyne, spoke of changes to the most recent edition of the ANSI/ISEA 107 High Visibility Apparel Standard. “Under previous standard editions, the amount of background material required to make many common garments, such as a Class 2 vest, made it difficult for manufacturers to design garments that properly fit smaller workers, which included many women,” Olson said. “Inspired by worker feedback, the revised ANSI/ISEA 107-2015 standard now allows for an exception to the minimum area requirements for background materials used in Type R Performance Class 2 and Type R Performance Class 3 garments with a ‘smallest size’ offering.”
Other product developers are focusing on fit. “Some of the new technologies being applied to women’s PPE gear include range-of-motion capabilities and flexible construction around the joints,” said Melinda Fabry, PPE and industrial merchandiser at Dearborn, MI-based Carhartt. Fabry also noted that moisture-wicking and stretch-capable products are being offered for women, which “allows for more comfort and creates the feel of everyday clothes.”
Regarding construction safety, Dan Birch, product marketing manager for Smithfield, RI-based Honeywell Industrial Safety, pointed to manufacturers creating hard hats sized and styled for women. “A greater range of sizes and shapes produce a better fit on the head with less likelihood that it will fall off, exposing one to hazards,” he said, adding that a “new range of colors, logo and graphic options add interest, reflecting the ‘personal’ in personal protective equipment.”
Workers should feel confident that they are properly protected. “All workers, male or female, deserve PPE that fits properly,” Olson said. “When it does, they are much more inclined to: a) wear it and b) wear it in the correct way, maintaining compliance with national or company standards and reducing the risk of injury.”