There are many issues when purchasing and finding the appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) for a task. The most common question I am asked when ordering safety footwear is “Do the suppliers do half sizes?” and, unfortunately, the answer is no. As health and safety practitioners, we need to ensure that PPE fits correctly, is comfortable for the time it will be worn and that it passes all the relevant tests. If the available options are ill-fitting and uncomfortable, people may choose not to wear appropriate PPE, thus putting their health and safety at risk.
Staff have often said to me that they do not like wearing the prescribed PPE as the garments do not fit correctly and are uncomfortable. Once you mention that a week in hospital would be worse, they tend to take note and wear the PPE. Although scaremongering is not the usual tactic for enforcing compliance, staff need to understand the importance of wearing PPE. We must ensure that different PPE options are available to suit different shapes and sizes, and that they are practical and something that the wearer wants to wear. In the past, female workers simply had to make do with wearing a small-size man’s garment, so it is encouraging to see that recently safely clothing suppliers have realised that they need to make PPE accessible to different shapes and sizes, and to accommodate women.
Once these garments have been properly sourced, however, the next challenge is to make staff aware of their availability. It is quite common for staff to say to me “I didn’t know that we were allowed this” or “I didn’t know where those cut-resistant gloves were”. Making the options visible to employees through proper communication and safety briefings is an important part of the procurement process.
Senior management and those in charge of the purse strings must also support the procurement of PPE to suit all. When it comes to PPE, the cheaper alternatives are not always the economical options, as they may not last as long, may not be as comfortable and accommodating to different shapes and sizes, and may contribute, therefore, to an employee’s reasons not to wear them, thus jeopardising health and safety overall. It is rather satisfying when a member of staff compliments the PPE you have provided.
To ensure the suitability and safety of PPE for all, all employees at all levels must be on board.