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PPE needs to be designed with female anatomy in mind, ministers urged

Personal protective equipment (PPE) needs to be “designed with female anatomy in mind”, ministers have been urged.

Labour MP Emma Hardy (Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle) said that current PPE regulations do not make any specific mention of women, during an adjournment debate in the Commons.

On Tuesday Ms Hardy tabled the Personal Protective Equipment at Work (Protected Characteristics) Bill, which would require employers to ensure that PPE provided at work to people with certain protected characteristics is suitable for the wearer.

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On Tuesday Ms Hardy tabled the Personal Protective Equipment at Work (Protected Characteristics) Bill (PA)

She told the Commons: “This omission is one which continues to have significant real world consequences. The world is finally waking up to the fact that women are not just smaller men.

“Whether that is in the design of crash test dummies or the creation of the first anatomically accurate female 3D psychological model for medical students only three years ago. PPE needs to be designed with the female anatomy in mind.”

She added: “Most PPE distributors do stock women’s PPE but the issue can sometimes lie with employers, despite it being readily available on the market.”

Ms Hardy outlined some of the issues that occur when women wear “ill-fitting” PPE designed for men.

She said: “Ill-fitting PPE was found to cause a range of health and safety issues which included increased slip, trips and falls, increased risk of entanglement, limited range of motion, decreased dexterity from gloves, impaired vision from safety glasses.

“Worryingly, 42% of women reported experiences of relating to ill-fitting PPE which has impacted their careers and long-term health problems.”

She added: “Workers deserve a guarantee that they will be protected and the minister may say that the issues highlighted are covered by the regulations, but it is clear from the overwhelming evidence that as they stand they are not effective in ensuring large numbers of workers are receiving the protection they need at work.

“Reference to the Equalities Act can be found in guidance surrounding the regulations, but it’s not statutory. Well-fitting PPE should not be seen as best practice, it should be the minimum standard.”

Work and pensions minister Mims Davies said the Government entirely supports Ms Hardy’s “assertion that PPE issued to workers should be inclusive and of course made to individual needs.”

Ms Davies said: “It is the responsibility of the employer, of the workers in question to ensure that suitable PPE is provided to their workers who may be exposed to risk of their health and safety, the wearer of the PPE should always be involved in this process to increase the likelihood of acceptance and happiness in that equipment.

“And as (Ms Hardy) pointed out ill-fitting boots presenting trip hazards, overalls with sleeve or cuffs that are too long of course increase risk of entrapment in moving machinery, and it’s really important this is well-fitted, and as (Ms Hardy) mentioned suitable for anatomy as well.”