First and foremost, personal protective equipment must protect the wearer from the risks they face on the job. Good-quality PPE protects workers and allows the wearer to carry out the functions of their job, uninhibited. When it comes to PPE, comfort is just as crucial as accommodating the physical differences between men and women.

PPE and Workwear for Women

With fewer barriers to entry than ever before, more women are entering into historically male-dominated industries. In light of this, the needs of industrial workers, first-responders and artisans are changing, and PPE producers have to adapt to these changing needs. With decades of research, development and design of PPE, CHARNAUD understands the different performance aspects required for garments to serve men and women who work in high-risk industries.

The Rise of Women in the Mining Industry

Previously, women have not been able to enter into a number of industries due to institutional barriers. Many of these barriers were based on the physical differences, and what were deemed the ‘inadequacies’ of women to be able to work in certain industries. Up until 1996, South African women were prohibited from working in underground mining. Underground mining is very physically challenging and mine workers have to be able to endure hours of hard physical labour, hazardous working conditions and many other factors that put the body under immense physical stress. With women previously thought of as the weaker sex, their role in South Africa’s mining industry was limited to above-ground operations only. Today, however, this convention which precluded women from working in underground mines (The International Labour Organisation’s Convention 54 of 1935) has been denounced, and with that, the number of women in mining has increased in South Africa. As of 2018, 12% of the mining labour force is female (

Although the number of women entering into industries that were previously off-limits is growing, the proportion still remains relatively small. Globally, only 4% of all oil and gas workers are female (CNBC, 2019), while in the US there are only 15400 full-time career female firefighters ( However, there are positive shifts happening in high-risk industries; South Africa now boasts its own wildfire fighting team made up entirely of women.

Despite the political and institutional barriers that women have faced in multiple industries, there are also soft barriers which have discouraged them from pursuing a career in these fields. Due to the anatomical differences between men and women, and the inadequate, and historically binary design of PPE, women in these industries have been at greater risk than men for some time. With risk outweighing reward in some instances, women are already at a disadvantage.

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Personal Protective Equipment Designed for Gender Differences

The primary role of PPE in any situation is to provide protection for the wearer. PPE performs at its best when it is worn correctly and suited to the kinds of hazards the wearer faces. Design cannot ignore comfort, and understanding the physiological needs of men and women is important in this regard; the one-size-fits-all approach is no longer appropriate.

Physical comfort gives the wearer peace of mind by allowing them to perform their job unhindered. Protective garments must accommodate the physical demands of the job and the movement of the wearer. The more comfortable a worker feels in their PPE and the less it inhibits their ability to perform a job, the more likely they are to want to wear it.

Poorly-fitting PPE increases the stress load on the wearer and can make concentrating on the job at hand, much more difficult. It can also create unnecessary hazards; loose fabric from ill-fitting garments can get caught in machinery or brush against hazardous substances or ignition sources. Poorly-fitting PPE is a risk to workers. The physical protection properties of a garment are enhanced when the garment is worn correctly, therefore it’s important that the garments fit the wearer properly. For these reasons, PPE manufacturers have to offer forward-thinking solutions for PPE across the gender spectrum.

Sizing to Suit Women

Designing PPE for women is not as simple as sizing down garments designed for men. This is a naïve notion of what anatomical differences look like. For example, an FR shirt may be broader in the shoulder for a male but needs to be narrower in the waist for a female, while a Conti suit may nip in at the waist higher up on a woman than a man.

A welding jacket plays a vital role in protecting industrial workers from several hazards. It is a vital piece of equipment that must be fit-for-purpose and physically fitted to the wearer. Typically, a welding jacket for a woman should be sized to cater for the bust area with a well-fitted collar which keeps hazardous debris and substances out. Trading a women’s medium welding jacket for a men’s small, for example, will not answer to the needs of female workers. If these needs are not met, then the intended protective qualities of a garment will be jeopardised.

Physical work involves the use of hands, which also have to be suitably protected. This is particularly significant when it comes to gloves and hand protection, and poorly-fitting gloves have been highlighted as an issue by female workers in a range of industries. Women’s hands tend to be proportionally smaller and narrower than men with variances in the length of digits on male and female hands. Although women’s hands tend to be smaller overall, a woman’s ring finger is generally the same length as her index finger, while a man’s is longer. Other interesting and crucial anatomical differences show that a man’s thumb is proportionally longer than a woman’s when compared to his other digits. Since the hands are one of the most important tools in any job, the comfort of gloves is of utmost importance. Gloves should allow the wearer to be able to do the job well while also offering adequate dexterity and minimising the fatigue that comes with poorly- fitting PPE.

Research has revealed many of the challenges women face in these industries. Challenges can range from environmental hazards to inadequate PPE. Some challenges may be difficult to overcome, but inadequate PPE is not one of them. The protection of workers is foremost when it comes to PPE, however that does not mean that comfort should be compromised. The best PPE is a seamless blend of fit, comfort and protection. The advances in garment design technology have enabled pioneers like CHARNAUD to develop and design PPE that respects the physical comfort of the wearer. Real comfort considers the unique differences between men and women, and by relying on CHARNAUD for your needs, you are assured that the garments your workers wear will be fit-for-purpose while accommodating their anatomical differences to enhance their safety.

For All Your PPE Requirements- Get in Touch with CHARNAUD Today

Whether you are looking for male or female PPE, CHARNAUD have you covered. Contact us today and let us help you ensure that your workforce is as safe as possible.

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