PPE: Gender Bias in the Canadian Workplace

PPE for women in Canadian workplaces has been nothing short of a joke.

In a case of a testosterone-filled workplace, PPE manufacturers are shrinking PPE designed for men, throwing some pink on it, and calling it PPE for women. In fact, about 65% of female workers say their PPE is designed for their male counterparts.

But this kind of bias doesn’t just minimize women’s role in the food manufacturing workplace and make them feel less confident; it also creates hazards, which is central to our discussion in this article.

Let me fill you in.

How the Canadian Workplace is Making Female Workers Play the Hand They’re Dealt

All the stakeholders of the industry are in cahoots on this issue. From employers and PPE manufacturers to Canadian unions and food safety agencies, they all leave wiggle room for bias in women’s safety garments.

As a matter of fact, Canadian safety regulations are not consistently requiring adequate protection against hazards and proper fitting of PPE.

And it’s for that reason that PPE manufacturers take advantage and cut corners with women’s PPE, while employers choose to wing it and supply their female workers with ill-fitting safety attire.

According to research, 50% of Canadian female workers stated that their PPE didn’t fit well, 43% claimed discomfort, and 35% complained that the selection of women-specific PPE was insufficient.

But men’s PPE is unequivocally a different kettle of fish from that of women. Safety garment for men doesn’t fit women because of anthropometric differences between male and female bodies:

  • Women need more room in the chest and have narrower shoulders than men.

  • Women have wider hips and shorter torsos than men.

  • Women’s hands are smaller, with narrower fingers than men’s hands.

Left without a choice, women are taking matters into their own hands at the workplace.


How are Women Coping With Poorly Designed and Ill-Fitting PPE?

Canadian female workers are clutching at straws and dipping into their coffers to alter their given PPE for improved fit, safety, and comfort or to find PPE specially designed for women (and how it helps to find one designed by women).

Imagine using rubber bands, duct tape, and safety pins to eschew your pant legs from tripping you. It's not a good look for you and your employer. Unfortunately, that’s what some women have to do to protect themselves from hazards in the workplace.

Modification of PPE risks your employer's food production safety certification.

(Source: Jennifer Teague, VP of CSA Group)

But if you don't modify your PPE, you could get severe injuries at work. 

Is that a catch-22 up ahead? 

The Horror In The Problem

With inadequate protection, things on the manufacturing floor can get gruesome.

For instance, a female welder explained how her sleeves and pant legs get short in certain awkward positions, resulting in burns on her legs, hands, and breasts.

Over and above that, a female construction worker felt she couldn’t talk to her boss about her badly fitting PPE. She ended up buying her own. Her issued PPE was so tiny for her burgeoning pregnancy that she had a miscarriage.

The food and beverage processing workplace are no different. It exposes female workers to grave hazards if they lack properly fitting PPE, including:

  • Slips, trips, and falls resulting from slippery surfaces made by frequent washdowns required by the food manufacturing industry. Oversized footwear originally meant for men will land you in a hospital bed.

  • Chemical burns resulting from the use of chemical detergents, disinfectants, soaps, and sanitisers to stave off unwanted organisms and contaminants from food. Oversized headgear, eye protection and gloves slide off, exposing you to the danger of burning chemicals.

  • Dangerous equipment used in food processing puts workers at risk of getting injured or amputated, as oversized garments can get caught in machinery.

  • You can easily drop or mishandle hazardous materials if your gloves are ill-fitting, injuring yourself and others.

To top it off, wearing improperly fitting body protectors, respirators, and heavy work boots can result in chronic musculoskeletal disorders.

Women are also exposed to disparaging comments in the workplace when they put on ill-fitting PPE. It kills their morale, and that’s why many female workers feel ashamed and quiet quit.

How To Level The Playing Field

Food processors should consider moving the needle by buying female PPE from manufacturers designing PPE specifically for women. A smorgasbord of companies are making waves in the female safety garment space. 

They include See Her Work, Covergalls, Safety Girl, and Charm and Hammer.

For instance, these companies provide employers with protective clothing such as arc flash and flame-resistant attire with tailoring that better fits your body for comfort and mobility.

Employers must also source safety apparel for pregnant female employees, women of different faiths who require special attire, and women with disabilities, in earnest.

Technical female talent want to work for inclusive food and beverage processing employers, so it’s time to drive change with the correct PPE for women in Canadian workplaces. That’s why the QTalent platform helps you find employers who put your needs first, from benefits and compensation to workplace safety.

Apply To The Company, Not The Job - Here’s Why!

Employers and PPE manufacturers aside, the government, standard agencies, and unions must also put their best foot forward. They must listen to female voices and act.

One-size-fits-men mustn’t be one-size-fits-all.

Elton Mwangi


Elton has been a writer and has contributed his expertise to the HR industry for the last 5 years. He's passionate about working with companies that utilize HR technology to improve the employee experience and the future of the workforce. He starts his morning with a cup of joe and the latest article from HR Morning and SHRM to equip his audience with quality blog content.

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