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Today is International Women’s Day with the theme “Embrace Equity,” prompting us to observe that women’s personal protection needs are similar to but not exactly the same as they are for men in certain work environments.
In the U.S., employers who are subject to Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations are required to ensure all workers have properly fitted personal protective equipment (PPE) and that protective outer wear and clothing (PPC) is not damaged or worn out. While many vendors offer equipment and clothing designed to fit all body types, experience shows that female employees are still more likely than male employees to have improperly fitted PPE. This is of particular concern in hazardous occupations in which men tend to outnumber women in the workforce.
Getting the Right Fit
OSHA advises employees to test employer-provided PPE for proper fit and check PPE and PPC for wear. It’s a best practice for employers to offer employees a range of choices and access to suppliers who carry equipment, outer wear and other clothing to fit all body types.
Optimally, PPE should be fitted based on anthropometric data, according to OSHA. Core elements of anthropometry are height, weight, head circumference, body mass index, body circumferences (waist, hip and limbs) and skinfold thickness. In adults, body measurements are typically used to help assess overall health, nutritional status and disease risk, and in some cases to diagnose obesity.
According to the International Journal of Environmental Research, personal safety improves when anthropometric measurements are used in the production of clothing, gloves, footwear, and head, eye and face protection devices. These measurements also help ensure user comfort and consistency. In addition, anthropometric data may be used to inform the design of ergonomic workplaces, machines and tools while accounting for the use of PPE. Dimensional allowances for PPE may be further refined using 3D scanning methods.
In some workplaces, both men and women require personal protection due to exposure hazards that could affect their reproductive health. Additional layers of protection, or even a temporary job change, may be needed when a woman is planning to get pregnant or is pregnant.
A pregnant woman who wears PPE and/or PPC may find it no longer fits correctly. Similarly, a woman’s shifting center of gravity may affect her balance and increase her risk of injury. Temporary adjustments may need to be made for pregnant women who do jobs that involve exposure to toxic substances, prolonged standing, excessive physical exertion or working in extreme temperatures.
Pregnant employees can be encouraged to:
WorkCare’s occupational health clinicians provide guidance on ways to reduce exposure hazards and help employers protect and promote employee health in the workplace. Contact us for more information on how to safeguard the health and well-being of your employees in the workplace.
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