A New Approach: Going Beyond “One Size Fits All” PPE

A New Approach: Going Beyond “One Size Fits All” PPE

Given the growing numbers of women in utility and electrical industries, the need for proper fitting PPE is at an all-time high.

For years, most women in the utility and electrical industries have had to shop for their protective apparel in the men’s section, a frustrating search that usually results in ill-fitting PPE. Given the growing numbers of women in these industries, this problem is only getting worse—and more dangerous. In a recent study, three in four survey participants believed the number of women who wear FR will increase in the coming years. As more women take on electrical and utility jobs, the need for women’s PPE will continue to grow. Unfortunately, PPE has almost exclusively focused on men, not only alienating professional women, but also significantly compromising their access to critical safety equipment.  

A one-size-fits-all mentality and a historic lack of women’s PPE options increases risk in already hazardous fields. By wearing ill-fitting PPE designed specifically for men, women do not receive the same protection from their garments. Flame-resistant and arc-rated (FR/AR) garments that are too tight or too loose may expose the wearer to arc flashes up to 35,000 degrees Fahrenheit resulting in potentially life-altering burn injuries.  

In today’s work environments, women need access to the same level of PPE performance as men, without sacrificing fit, style and comfort. Outfitting women with properly-designed garments not only provide optimal protection, it also supports a more inclusive, welcoming workplace. When a potential employee knows that the clothing required for a new role will not fit her correctly, she may be less likely to accept the position. The availability of women-specific FR/AR garments broadens the spectrum of gear and professionals who can rely on it for their safety.  

Beyond just convenient features, elements like well-applied stretch, carefully placed stitching and intentional pocket design add significant value to already critical decisions like fabric choice. Fabric is the single most important aspect of a garment when it comes to FR protection, so specifying FR/AR fabrics is crucial to ensuring workers’ safety. Considerations about body types and physical needs ensure those fabrics are translated into comfortable, well-fitting protective garments for all professionals.   

More than “just another shirt,” women-specific PPE delivers more than just proper fit, comfort, mobility and safety, it also demonstrates that women can finally expect more from their PPE and their industry. 

PPE manufacturing has come a long way since the first protective garments were engineered, but there is still substantial work to be done. Garment and fabric manufacturers, as well as safety managers and distributors, must continue to collaborate to address the needs of women in the industry. Focused on more deliberate designs and more inclusive specifications, product ranges and protective collections can finally reflect the women who are changing the face of the most dangerous industries in the world. 

This article originally appeared in the June 2022 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

About the Author

Tom Moore, as North American Sales Director, helps distill the complexities of FR/AR fabrics down to relatable, useful content to act on. For 25 years, he has helped bring life-saving protective fabrics to those who need them most. He continues to do just that for Westex, connecting customers and end users with the fabrics best suited for their unique safety needs. Born and raised in South Louisiana, Tom holds a Bachelor of Science degree from McNeese State University and now resides in Baton Rouge with his wife and three children.

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