New CSA report highlights the dangers of "scaled down" PPE for women

2 way zipper navy

Close up of Covergalls' 2 way zipper navy 

Only 6 percent of women surveyed in the new Canadian Women’s Experiences with Personal Protective Equipment in the Workplace report wear personal protective equipment (PPE) designed for them. 

That's a shocking number, especially when you consider how Statistics Canada estimated that 9.3 million women, ages 15 and older, were participating in the labour market in March 2022.

The report released by the CSA Group gives a good examination of Canadian women's experiences with PPE, surveying nearly 3000 women from varying sectors and details some of their first-hand experiences and challenges.

“Because the PPE does not fit well, I tend to get caught on stuff. Railings, door knobs, any sharp corners. Length of coveralls creates a tripping hazard, and sleeves that are either too long or too wide and ill-fitting gloves make everything feel very awkward.”

- Survey respondent who felt “somewhat protected” by her PPE
British Columbia, Transportation 

In a number of places around the world, finding PPE that fits is a struggle. Many jurisdictions do not recognize sex or gender differences in their regulatory frameworks, nor in the initial design of their workers' PPE. As a result, many risks that women in the labour market face are not properly assessed, controlled or monitored. As the CSA report concludes, Canada is no exception. 

Figure 8: Percentage of Women Who Find Their PPE Meets Their Needs (n = 2752)

One of the report's main takeaways? Women are not scaled down versions of men; meaning that smaller sized coveralls (made originally for men) do not meet the required safety and comfort needed for women's workplace PPE.

This takeaway might feel obvious - jean shopping anyone - but the reality is that women working in the labour market continue to face this issue. The three most common PPE problems participants faced included: it does not fit properly (50%), it's uncomfortable to wear (43%) and the selection available for women-specific PPE is inadequate (35%).

The women surveyed also noted that they used the wrong size PPE at least some of the time (58%), didn't wear required PPE at all, due to issues of fit (28%), or used a workaround, like rubber bands or safety pins or duct tape, to make their PPE fit (38%). 

Nearly 40% of women surveyed reported that they had experienced an injury or incident related to their PPE. 

Fun fact: Our founder, Alicia Woods, was one of the key informants in the report!

As this report details, functional fit and freedom of movement are key in designing proper PPE. This means creating PPE that accounts for not only the range and extent of movement needed while performing work tasks, but also the diverse genders and body types of those who work in these sectors. 

"Because of their body shape, many workers require different harness sizes for different parts of their body – for example, a short individual may find that a small harness fits them well in the torso, but is too tight at the hips or belly."

Canadian Women’s Experiences with Personal Protective Equipment in the Workplace report

The Covergalls team is so glad to see this report come out detailing the experiences faced by women in different labour sectors. We only mentioned a fraction of the great information the report goes into and hope that everyone takes a chance to read it, and share it widely!

The link to read and share the report here: https://www.csagroup.org/article/research/canadian-womens-experiences-with-personal-protective-equipment-in-the-workplace/