The concept of a “one size fits all” approach in the workplace is falling by the wayside. Today, companies are looking to be as diverse and inclusive as possible as they build their workforce. They recognize the need to provide respiratory protection to all their workers. When purchasing PPE, employers should take into account the diversity of their workforce. As an employer, it is your responsibility to help workers find PPE that fits properly. When it doesn’t, it can put workers at risk of health and safety issues.
The Dangers of Improperly Fitting Personal Protective Equipment
A large piece of PPE does not stay in place. For workers with thin builds, this is critical. Depending on the size, the item may pose a new safety risk to the wearer. Loose-fitting vests cannot be tucked easily into one’s gear. Gloves that are too large make it difficult to grasp handles and pick up tools. Gaps in goggles provide a pathway for objects, liquids, and other harmful materials.
If personal protective equipment (PPE) is too small, it will not provide the same amount of protection, putting workers at risk. Taking into account the person’s weight, their clothing, and any tools they may be carrying, PPE with certified load limits may not be adequate.
Hard hats allow for some customization, but a hat suspension that is too small will not adequately protect the wearer from head blows. As standard fall protection harnesses are designed for employees weighing 130–310 pounds, those who weigh more than that are more likely to sustain injuries if they fall.
How to Protect Everyone With Appropriate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
No matter how big or small the majority of your staff is, you must provide PPE that fits comfortably and keeps workers safe. Here are some tips to ensure that everyone is protected:
Identify any hazards in your workplace
Perform a hazard assessment and do some research to ensure that the PPE you choose protects workers from the hazard. Depending on your industry, PPE may need to meet specific standards. This helps you to determine what hazards your personnel are exposed to and what PPE they require to protect themselves.
The most effective way to control a hazard is to remove it from the workplace and replace it with a safer alternative. You can also isolate the hazard from employees. Engineering controls, such as a cover or railing, to reduce the risk of injury and administrative controls like training and safety procedures can help mitigate the hazard. Having the right protection in place can allow you to determine the correct size and fit.
Get worker feedback on sizing
Do not hesitate to ask for help if you’re unsure about a worker’s size. You need not ask about their weight or average clothing size. Offer your employees a list of sizes and options, and ask them to choose the size they prefer. OSHA regulates PPE sizing for all industries requiring protective clothing.
The PPE does not need to fit perfectly, but it shouldn’t be baggy. For instance, if the worker is working with glass or other sharp objects, consider the length of his or her neck. In such professions, collars must completely cover the worker’s neck.
Consider buying a wider selection of PPE
Even if your team changes frequently, maintaining a variety of sizes of PPE on hand will enable you to satisfy worker needs. Be sure to include a variety of sizes in your normal order with your equipment provider. For instance, having a diverse range of respirators can increase the likelihood that your workers will use them.
Your workers should wear their respirators comfortably during fit testing to ensure that they can seal well. A respirator doesn’t have to be tight to work properly. Those who experience gaping under their chins with cup-style respirators might be better off using horizontal flat-fold respirators. This type of respirator folds vertically and accommodates a variety of facial types.
Pay attention to the sizes and needs of your female employees
PPE is still difficult to obtain in certain industries where women are underrepresented. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 1,241 of construction jobs were held by women in 2021. Pregnant or menopausal women may have to rely on one provider of PPE. They may have to buy their own acceptable PPE or switch jobs to protect their health.
While OSHA PPE guidelines do not require companies to ensure that the PPE given fits each employee, doing so ensures that all employees, including women, are protected. Maintain a list of PPE manufacturers and suppliers who are able to offer a wide range of sizes, including PPE clothing and gear tailored specifically for women. This makes it easier to order the right items.
Protect Your Workers with a Diversity of PPE
PPE selection involves many factors including hazard assessments, sizing, and the industry you work in. By knowing and considering these factors when picking PPE for your diverse workplace, you are better prepared to equip your workers.