Access to workwear and PPE that has been designed for the wearer’s comfort and protection is something all workers should have. This was confirmed in the Personal Protective Equipment at Work Regulations 1992 and has been upheld since. Unfortunately, however, female workers across the nation still struggle to find workwear designed for them. Instead, we are finding that women working at or visiting a site are often left with whatever workwear is available, the majority of which is typically only available in male sizes.
The current picture
Leaving female workers to make do with ill-fitting male-sized workwear presents several challenges, especially from a site safety and user comfort point of view. While there is no such thing as an average female body type, there is undoubtedly a difference when it comes to waist ratio, limb length and chest size versus male counterparts.
There is no guarantee that safety workwear designed to provide sufficient protection and comfort to male employees will offer comparable levels for women. For example, ill-fitting clothing represents a real safety risk, either through trips or falls or getting caught in machinery.
The lack of appropriate workwear available to female workers is even more surprising given the positive strides in the number of women entering the workforce in sectors such as construction, highways and rail, over the last decade. Importantly, the pace of change in the workforce shows no sign of slowing down, with a recent Randstad report showing that 23% of women working in construction have joined in the last two years alone. However, employers must recognise that while progress is being made, there remains a lot more work to be done. Especially with the very same report highlighting that 89% of women have experienced some form of perceived gender discrimination while working in the industry.
Supporting positive steps forward
With many major infrastructure tenders now requiring contractors and suppliers to demonstrate their ESG credentials, it is important to remember that equality and diversity is a major pillar of ‘governance’ in ESG.
Companies, therefore, need to recognise that protective workwear is not only an essential component of workplace safety but also vital for employee wellbeing. Indeed, taking a holistic approach to improving inclusivity at every level, such as safety and workwear, can help companies both retain and attract more women into the industry.
Breaking this mould also poses commercial opportunities to suppliers able to attract a growing customer base. As such, companies who take bold steps today will be rewarded tomorrow.
The new range at Supertouch
While female workwear is not a new concept – the real problem lies in the lack of supply, with many existing lines targeting the higher end of the market. However, this year will see Supertouch launch its first-ever ladies’ workwear range suitable for a wide variety of industrial sectors.
The products within the collection have been tailored to female body types with a view to maximising comfort and optimising ergonomics. To offer flexibility around sizing, each garment will be available in eight different sizes, and where appropriate, will incorporate adjustable cuffs and hems to enable the wearer to truly tailor each item of clothing to their fit. The hi-vis elements of the range feature strategically positioned and stretchable reflective tape to ensure compliance with EN ISO 20471, which in addition to the structured side panelling, allows for greater user comfort and a stylish fitted shape.
Importantly, each item in the range has been named after the daughter of a Supertouch employee involved in the development process. By doing this, we hope to inspire future generations of women to enter the industry while highlighting the need for female input into the design process.
Making ladieswear more accessible
While progress is being made across the industry in terms of female inclusion and empowerment, there is still much to be done. Change must be bold and reach every aspect of working life – requiring buy-in from stakeholders at all levels.
Ultimately, while to some it may seem small, the gender PPE gap represents a real day-to-day reminder of the work that needs to be done to improve equality throughout the industry. However, with manufacturers taking responsibility to break down barriers and plug gaps in supply, a new approach to female workwear is just around the corner.