Women in Construction

Personal Protective Equipment

"Personal protective equipment, commonly referred to as "PPE", is equipment worn to minimize exposure to hazards that cause serious workplace injuries and illnesses. These injuries and illnesses may result from contact with chemical, radiological, physical, electrical, mechanical, or other workplace hazards. Personal protective equipment includes items, such as gloves, safety glasses and protective shoes, earplugs or muffs, hard hats, respirators, coveralls, vests and full body suits."[1]

"When engineering, work practice, and administrative controls are not feasible or do not provide sufficient protection, employers must provide personal protective equipment (PPE) to their employees and ensure its use." (See Hierarchy of Controls CDC/NIOSH)."[2]

"One of the greatest challenges in designing effective PPE is quantification of PPE fit to specific worker populations. Poor fit of respiratory protection can result in serious health effects in workplace conditions due to exposure to environmental hazards. NIOSH researchers studied the effect an improperly conformed fall-arrest harness would have on the protection of workers, who work at heights and could increase the risk of suspension trauma after a successful fall arrest (Hsiao, Turner, Whisler, & Zwiener, 2012)."[3]

"In a 2021 Institute for Women's Policy Research (IWPR) Tradeswomen's Retention and Advancement Survey answered by 2,635 tradeswomen and non-binary tradespeople, it was reported that only (19.1 percent) of the participants indicated that they were always provided with gloves or safety equipment in the sizes that fit them while working. ((CPWR), 2023)."[4]

"In March and April 2015, The Washington State Department of Labor and Industries and the Safety and Health Investment Projects (SHIP) funded a project with 19 tradeswomen participants divided into three focus groups from Washington State, e.g., Seattle, Vancouver, and Spokane. These women construction workers represented various trades and career levels including carpentry, drywall finishing, electricians, laborers, operating engineers, and plasterers. Of which, three were apprentices, two retired tradeswomen, and 14 journey-level tradeswomen. Several workers were in supervisory positions) with an overall age range (from age 18 to 65 or older).

Several focus group participants reported they experienced injuries when using ill-fitting PPE, and that most employers did not provide properly fitting PPE such as: safety harnesses, coveralls, boots, and safety glasses. A journey-level laborer called attention to the dangers of standard size harnesses for tradeswomen: "The harnesses—safety harness for tying off…they're not made for women. You would have to buy a specific one for female's bodies. They don't fit you right. If you were to fall off a building with a standard harness on, it would do more damage than good." Others shared stories about jerry-rigging their own harnesses and equipment, including a carpenter apprentice who said she uses her tool belt as a makeshift harness. In addition to not being properly designed, or certified, such worker-supplied PPE is not always allowed on jobsites. Further, several participants also reported that they do not wear gloves on the job because the poor fit hinders their ability to work."[5] "Other workarounds include using rubber bands, safety pins, and/or duct tape to shorten fall-arrest gear, secure work gloves, shorten sleeves, and prevent their pant legs from tripping them."[6]

"OSHA is proposing to revise its PPE standard in construction to explicitly require that the equipment must fit properly. (Personal Protective Equipment in Construction, Proposed Rule, 88 Fed. Reg. 46706). Properly fitting PPE is a critical element of an effective occupational safety and health program. PPE must fit properly to provide adequate protection to employees. Improperly fitting PPE may fail to provide any protection to an employee and may present additional hazards."[7]

The OSHA standards related to PPE in the construction industry (29 CFR 1926) include: 1926 Subpart C - General Safety and Health Provisions; 1926 Subpart E - Personal Protective and Life Saving Equipment; 1926 Subpart M and 1926 Subpart P – Excavations. (See Safety and Health Topics/PPE/Construction/OSHA Standards).

Engineering Anthropometry

"NIOSH continues to study PPE in relation to the physical measures of a person's size, form, and functional capacity—this science is called anthropometry. Anthropometric measures used to design PPE include facial dimensions to design respirators and eye protection, chest circumference to design protective coats or coveralls, and foot length and breadth to design protective footwear. It is important that anthropometry databases and other information used to develop PPE are based on measurements that are representative of current working populations."[8]

Significant advancements have been made to make Personal Protective Equipment more accessible for women. The International Safety Equipment Association (ISEA) reports that many employers now provide a full range of sizes for PPE and that "PPE fit should be communicated in a way that a worker can understand their size, and the employer must make the effort to purchase the sizes needed, no matter the quantity."[9]

The following list of examples of commercially available PPE has been compiled to help employers and workers in the trades find PPE that accommodates a range of anthropometry.

Best Practice: In addition to compliance with the OSHA regulations, whenever employers are required to purchase PPE, they should purchase these items in size ranges suitable for women. Employers should maintain a directory of PPE manufacturers and suppliers on hand, identify a wide selection of size ranges for PPE, keep appropriate size ranges in stock, and ensure direct accessibility, as required. Remember: One size does not fit all!

Additional Resources:
hardhat welding helmet welding leathers


1 U.S. Department of Labor, OSHA. (n.d.). Safety and Health Topics, Personal Protective Equipment. Retrieved from U.S. Dept of Labor, Retrieved from OSHA Web Site: https://www.osha.gov/personal-protective-equipment.

2 U.S. Department of Labor, OSHA. (2023). Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Personal Protective Equipment. Online Publication:OSHA 3151-02R 2023. Retrieved from US Dept. of Labor, OSHA: https://www.osha.gov/sites/default/files/publications/osha3151.pdf

3 Hsiao., H. (2013, February). Anthropometric Procedures for Protective Equipment Sizing and Design. Retrieved from National Library of Medicine, PubMed Central: 4562332, NIHMSID: NIHMS716675, PMID: 23516791 (Web Site): https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4562332/#R19

4 (CPWR), T. C. (2023). The Center for Construction Research and Training (CPWR), Tools &qamp; Guides to Reach the Industry (e.g. Tech Transfer, Vulnerable Workers, Partnerships). Retrieved from The Center for Construction Research and Training (CPWR): https://www.cpwr.com/research/research-to-practice-r2p/r2p-library/resources-for-stakeholders-and-researchers/construction-personal-protective-equipment-for-the-female-workforce/

5 Curtis HM, M. H., &qamp; 10.3389/fpubh.2021.7, 9. d. ( 2022, January 26). Working Safely in the Trades as Women: A Qualitative Exploration and Call for Women-Supportive Interventions. Front Public Health. 2022 Jan 26;9:781572. doi: 10.3389/fpubh.2021.7. Retrieved from National Library of Medicine, PubMed Central (PMC): 8833840, Front Public Health. 2021; 9: 781572.: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8833840/

6 Keefe, A. (2022). Canadian Women's Experiences with Personal Protective Equipment in the Workplace. Canadian Standards Association, Toronto, ON. Retrieved from: https://www.csagroup.org/article/research/canadian-womens-experiences-with-personal-protective-equipment-in-the-workplace/

7 (OSHA). (2023, July 20). National Archives, Federal Register, PPE in Construction, Proposed Rule. Retrieved from National Archives, Federal Register, Personal Protective Equipment in Construction, Proposed Rule, 88 Fed. Reg. 46706, OSHA 3151–12R, 2004. Retrieved from: https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2023/07/20/2023-15285/personal-protective-equipment-in-construction

8 Mirle Pena, M., Meghan Kiederer, B., Patrick G. Dempsey, P. C., N. Katherine Yoon, P., CDR Elizabeth from CDC/NIOSH, NIOSH Science Blog, Personal Protective Equipment Fit in the Construction Garza, M. C., Scott Earnest, P. P., &qamp; Douglas Trout, M. M. (2023, March 6). Center for Disease Control and Prevention, National Institute of Occupational Health and . Retrieved Sector: https://blogs.cdc.gov/niosh-science-blog/2023/03/06/ppe-fit-construction/

9 Baugh, L., International Safety Equipment Association (ISEA). (July 12, 2019). Warns Poorly Fitting PPE is a Safety Hazard. Retrieved from (ISEA) https://safetyequipment.org/isea-warns-poorly-fitting-personal-protective-equipment-is-a-safety-hazard/