Women should be mentioned in PPE law, says MP

A Labour MP has called for women to be explicitly mentioned in the law about the provision of personal protective equipment at work – saying its absence has “significant real-world consequences”.

Emma Hardy, MP for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle, said women “are not just smaller men”, and suggested the law should encourage PPE for construction sites and other workplaces “to be designed with female anatomy in mind”.

Speaking in the House of Commons on Tuesday (12 March), Hardy cited research by the National Association of Women in Construction Yorkshire, which found that 60 per cent of employers do not provide women-specific PPE – leading to a “range of health and safety issues”, as women have to wear men’s PPE.

The increased risks of ill-fitting PPE include slips, trips and falls; entanglement; a limited range of motion; decreased dexterity from gloves; and impaired vision from safety glasses.

“Worryingly, 42 per cent of women reported experiences relating to ill-fitting PPE which had had an impact on their careers,” Hardy told Mims Davies, minister for disabled people, health and work, during an adjournment debate she secured on inclusive PPE.

“Long-term health problems included plantar fasciitis, Morton’s neuroma and tendinitis from poorly-fitting safety boots, and injury from suspension trauma and circulation damage as a result of ill-fitting harnesses.”

Hardy said the Personal Protective Equipment at Work Regulations (Amendment) 2022 and its predecessor, the Personal Protective Equipment at Work Regulations 1992, rightly place a duty on employers to provide PPE – and she acknowledged that the law currently states that PPE should account for different ergonomic requirements.

“However, despite being revised seven times since coming into force, the regulations do not make specific mention of women, who, I hardly need to remind the minister, comprise half the population, [n]or to others with protected characteristics under the Equality Act 2010,” she said.

“That omission continues to have significant real-world consequences.”

Hardy added: “There is overwhelming evidence that, as they stand, the regulations are not effective in ensuring that large numbers of workers are receiving the protection they need.

“Reference to the Equality Act 2010 can be found in guidance surrounding the regulations, but it is not statutory. Well-fitting PPE should not be seen as best practice; it should be the minimum standard.”

Davies responded by saying that the government “entirely support[s Hardy’s] assertion that personal protective equipment issued to workers should be inclusive and, of course, meet individual needs”.

She said that the British Safety Industry Federation is working with the British Standards Institution “to look at whether industry standards can be better framed to ensure that inclusive PPE is better designed”.

Davies said: “Manufacturers make up a significant proportion of those who sit on the relevant British standards technical committees for products of this type and, rightly, they are capable of influencing the range of what can be supplied.”

She added: “On the Health and Safety Executive’s comprehensive guidance [on PPE], I note the honourable lady’s ask for statutory guidance, and I am sure that it will be listening to her queries.”

In January, the Considerate Constructors Scheme (CCS) added women’s PPE to its contractor checklist, meaning companies that opt into the code are expected to ensure proper-fitting PPE for women is available on all of their sites.

Contractors that sign up to the voluntary CCS code are assessed at least biannually on their performance on criteria including staff welfare, environmental action and community engagement.

Contractors must achieve an overall score above a certain threshold to conform with the scheme.

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