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Loss Control Insights for Contractors

PPE: One Size Doesn’t Fit All

Woman wearing safety gear and doing woodworking

Personal protective equipment (PPE) can be an effective way to prevent injuries to your employees, but only if it’s the right PPE for the job and the right PPE for the worker. Not sure if you’re getting the PPE strategy right at your organization? Here are three problems to watch out for.

Problem: PPE Is Too Large

When PPE (or other equipment, for that matter) is too large, it doesn’t stay in place like it’s supposed to so it doesn’t provide the needed protection. This is frequently a problem for employees who are female or for men with slim builds.

Depending on how oversized the article is, it may actually create a new hazard for the wearer:

  • Baggy vests may be pulled into equipment
  • Overly large gloves that extend beyond the wearer’s fingertips make it harder to grasp handles or pick up tools
  • Fall protection harnesses won’t effectively protect a wearer who can’t tighten the straps adequately

Problem: PPE Is Too Small

As Americans in general have increased in body size, so have workers in the building trades. This is problematic because many pieces of load-bearing equipment or types of PPE have rated load maximums that might be inadequate when you consider the weight of the employee, their clothing and any tools or equipment they will be carrying:

  • Hard hats offer some room for adjustment, but an undersized hat suspension will not adequately protect the wearer from head strikes
  • “Standard” fall protection harnesses are generally (but not always) designed to protect workers between 130–310 lb. Workers heavier than this range are more likely to suffer injuries from the hazardous forces of a fall

Problem: Employees Don’t Know How to Get the Right PPE

Many OSHA standards require employers to provide training in the correct use of PPE. To be considered complete, this training should include how to recognize whether PPE fits correctly and what to do if it doesn’t.

PPE only protects the user if it fits the user. While the “standard” size might work for a majority of your workers, you should be prepared to meet the needs of smaller or larger users. Make sure employees know how to request better-fitting safety equipment, and make sure your field supervisors know how to get ahold of it.

Solutions: Protection for Everyone

In the past, it was more challenging to find PPE options outside of the standard one-size-fits-all approach. Manufacturers simply didn’t provide a lot of options. But the last few years have seen improved choices for sizes and fit in all lines of PPE. Here are some tips for ensuring you offer protection that works for all of your employees:

Start by Choosing the Right PPE—Conduct a PPE hazard assessment and do some research to make sure the PPE you choose will protect employees from the hazard. Once you get the right protection in place, then you can work on getting the right size and fit.

Offer a Variety of Sizes—We know your workforce can change frequently, but you can be more prepared to meet worker needs if you make a habit of keeping smaller and larger equipment on hand. Talk to your tool crib or equipment supplier about including a variety of sizes in your standard order, or check out this list of commercially-available PPE that is specifically designed to fit women’s bodies.

Don’t Be Fooled by Marketing—When designing PPE for female workers, some manufacturers simply “shrink it and pink it.” This strategy is problematic because “feminized” colors often don’t meet the safety standards established by agencies such as ANSI or DOT. Users may also avoid wearing pink PPE because of a desire to blend in with the rest of the workforce.

Get Worker Input on Sizing—If you’re not sure what size an employee needs, don’t be afraid to ask for input. No need to ask personal questions about weight or clothing size. Simply show the employee the options and ask what size they would choose. This handy guide to PPE sizes can also be helpful.

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