InTrans / Jun 20, 2012

If the shoe doesn’t fit, don’t wear it!

Go! Magazine

Work shoesposted on June 20, 2012

Have you ever worn shoes that were too large for your feet? Did you feel uncomfortable and stumble frequently? Did you find it difficult to walk around? Most people would agree that wearing improperly sized shoes, pants, gloves, or hats makes moving around uncomfortable. What if doing this was a part of your job? What if, by agreeing to wear these oversized accessories, you put yourself at risk for accident or injury?

For many women working at construction sites or in factories and laboratories that require the regular use of personal protective equipment (PPE), these “what ifs” are a reality. Women and men are different. Biologically, their bodies are not the same. In most workplaces this is not an issue, but in facilities where PPE is required problems can arise. Men outnumber women in many of the jobs that require PPE. According to an Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA’s) study1, women comprised only 1 percent of the construction workforce in 1970. In a more recent study in 1995, women made up 2.3 percent of the construction workforce. Studies indicate that the number of women in construction continues to grow, but the problem of ill-fitting PPE persists. Even with the growth in numbers, the relatively few women on each job site makes it difficult for employers to balance the need for PPE for women and the need to keep their costs down.

Women factory workers wearing hard hats
Women factory workers wearing hard hats.

However, OSHA states that by not providing adequate PPE for women, companies are putting women at risk for injury and potentially losing money paying for medical treatment. According to research project conducted by the Canadian Industrial Accident Prevention Association (IAPA) and the Ontario Women’s Directorate (OWD) in 2006, PPE customized for women is a growing need. The IAPA and OWD worked to establish a plan of action to provide better PPE for Canadian women workers. The research study also pointed out the hazards of lack of PPE or the use of poorly fitted PPE for women.

Almost all studies on PPE for women in non-traditional occupations include at least one female participant that claimed she “made do” with men’s PPE sizes and styles. Why won’t this work? See below for a picture of a work boot for a woman (left) and a man (right) that are supposedly of comparable size. The man’s shoe is 2 inches longer and the sole of the shoe is 1/2 inch wider than the woman’s style. While the arch curves further in from the side to support the shape of a mans’ foot, it does not arch upwards to provide support for a womans’ often higher arch. The inaccurate fit can make work much more difficult, uncomfortable, and dangerous.

Bottom of women's shoe (left) and bottom of men's shoe (right) of comparable size
Bottom of women’s shoe (left) and bottom of men’s shoe (right) of comparable size

So what can you do? If you’re interested in a non-traditional profession, insist on equipment that fits properly. Don’t accept or make do with equipment for men that could put your health at risk. Many unions and employers have funding available for personal protective equipment, and are required by OSHA to provide required PPE for all employees. Make sure that you know your options for obtaining PPE that works for you, and that you find suitable solutions that keep you safe.



By Alex Werner, Go! Staff Writer

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