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In February 2023, a company was cited for allegedly failing to assess its workplace to determine hazards and provide workers with personal protective equipment (PPE). Employers must complete a PPE assessment of their workplace and ensure PPE fits properly for every worker.

Did you know that in 1994, a commenter to a proposed update to OSHA’s Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) standard suggested that OSHA require PPE to fit properly? Well, OSHA agreed, noting that males constituted most of the workforce in the past, and PPE was sized accordingly. As more females entered the workforce, they often had to choose between wearing PPE designed to fit males and not wearing PPE due to improper fit and subsequent discomfort.

Since females accounted for a larger percentage of the workforce than ever before, OSHA revised 1910.132(d) to add proper fit as a criterion for PPE selection. Fast forward nearly 30 years, and progress in the PPE space regarding proper fit is still lacking! In 2021, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that women comprised nearly one-third of the manufacturing workforce, and roughly 11% of construction, accounting for nearly 47% of working people in the United States.

Head and face

Men and women differ in their skeletal structure; women frequently have shorter heads and broader faces. Suppose employers overlook these differences when selecting hard hats, face shields, welding helmets, and safety glasses/goggles. In that case, they may inadvertently purchase equipment meant for a man that will undoubtedly create an ill-fit if worn by a woman.

Ill-fitting PPE can feel bulky and unbalanced to the wearer, even when adjusted according to the manufacturer. They can cause pinch points, headaches, and neck and shoulder strain. Improperly sized PPE in the head and face area can also create gaps in coverage, allowing debris to enter the eyes. Wrong-sized safety glasses can slip down the face and more easily fog up, creating soreness in the temples. This can all lead to worker distraction, loss of productivity, and removal of PPE altogether.


Select PPE with the proper size for each employee in mind. Women typically have shorter legs and longer trunks compared to men. Workers may need a full body harness, cold weather coveralls, a welding coat or disposable coveralls, a chemical splash apron, or FR shirt and pants. Items not properly worn (due to sizing or other issues) can make the difference between the employee being safely covered or dangerously exposed. Oversized PPE may “drown” the worker in excess material, creating new hazards such as loose clothing caught in machinery or overheating in warmer conditions.


To be effective, PPE must protect against the hazard and be worn consistently and correctly. Oversized hand protection (i.e., gloves) can create a loss of dexterity. If it is too small, you risk causing undue pressure on the hands and increased sweat, which can lead to fatigue and related injuries.


Safety shoes and boots designed for a man, but worn by a woman, cannot guarantee the required level of protection. In one sense, all safety footwear is meant to protect against corrosive materials, electrical hazards, heavy objects, punctures, or molten metal.

However, the risks of poorly fitting footwear can lead to a repetitive strain injury, poor posture, plantar fasciitis, fallen arches, and flat feet. Over time, workers can develop secondary injuries to the knees, hips, spine, and even the neck.

Regardless of the specific body part, overall, men and women differ in size and shape. Employers must shift their mindset from offering universal fit and the generalities of small, medium, and large. It simply is not working. Robin Marth, CSP, an Editor at J. J. Keller & Associates, Inc., wrote the content in this article.

Key to Remember

As more females entered the workforce, they often had to choose between wearing PPE designed to fit males and not wearing PPE due to improper fit and subsequent discomfort. Select PPE with the proper size for each employee in mind.