We see more and more women working in occupations that men used to dominate.  Back in the 1940’s, the image of the American woman was that of “Rosie the Riveter,” a strong, independent female defense worker.  She wore overalls, and was doing her part to help the United States win the war.  You’ve probably seen pictures of posters that showed women rolling up their sleeves and confirming “We Can Do It.”  These women helped build bombers, tanks, and ships.  American women followed Rosie out of the kitchen and onto the shop floor.  Working women numbered 11,970,000 in 1940, growing to 18,610,000 in 1945.  One in every four wives was employed by the end of the war.  Thirty-six per cent of the civilian workforce was comprised of women.  I knew a “Rosie the Riveter.”  A very tough and determined lady, she lived for several decades after the war, but succumbed to mesothelioma.  Chances were that when she was working in that Navy shipyard and exposed to asbestos,  there was very little personal protective equipment available to the workers. 

Through the decades, we have seen women venturing into jobs that we once thought impossible.  I admire any woman who can work in jobs that require strength, determination, and are not intimidated by high-risk occupations.  Advocates for those who work in high-risk jobs emphasize the need to control or eliminate hazards for all workers.  Personal protective equipment is known to be the last line of defense against hazards in the workplace.  Once risk assessments are done and controls are established, it is important that the right personal protective equipment is furnished to fit the job and it’s hazards.  The word “fit” is important for all workers, but many types of p.p.e. are often designed to fit the average size man, according to the Centers for Disease Control. 

Anthropometry is a science that measures the human body to determine likenesses and differences among individuals and groups.  These tables clearly show that women are not small men.  A woman’s foot is shorter and narrower than a man’s.  A man’s safety boot can be manufactured to try to accommodate the woman’s smaller foot, but it would only be correct in length, and still be too wide.  Have you ever watched a toddler try to walk around the house in his daddy’s boots?  Could you imagine how it would feel to try to work all day in ill-fitting boots, or other protective clothing?  While watching a reality show recently, I observed a young woman who was working in the lumber industry, and she was giving it her all, trying to keep up with the men.  Her boots were too big and she had a hard time trying to keep them on, and from slowing her down.  

The average woman’s body is shorter than a man’s, which makes coveralls too long in the torso.  With narrower shoulders, the sleeves of coveralls would be too long.  Then, women are usually wider at the hip, so there again, the coveralls are just not made to fit a woman as well as a man.  

Gloves are usually one of the main things that are harder to fit on women.  Thankfully, manufacturers have designed womens Mechanix gloves with women in mind.  They are made with shorter, narrower fingers and a smaller palm circumference.  A man’s small size glove many times just won’t fit her hands. 

Women have smaller heads and faces than the average man.  So this affects the comfort and fit in eye and face, head, and respiratory protection that is normally made for men.  Women should try on hard hats and find ones that are not too heavy, and have adequate suspension, plus a chin strap that will help with the fit.  There are size small safety glasses that are designed for women and smaller men.  Safety goggles can create a problem with fit and comfort for women.  A “one size fits all” may be too big, which would allow an inappropriate seal to the face, which could cause hazardous substances to enter the eye area.  Again, employers should keep in mind the proper fit for each individual worker.  Not all women are unable to wear men’s protective equipment, but employers should allow for those men and women who are smaller than the average man.

As stated earlier, the first line of defense is to control or remove the hazard.  When it can’t be removed or controlled adequately, personal protective equipment must be worn.  That personal protective equipment is the last resort to keeping workers healthy and safe.  But if it does not fit properly, it won’t be worn because it is uncomfortable, unsafe, and awkward.  Workers should report this to their employer or supervisor if this is the case.