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Women in the Workplace: PPE, Ergonomic, and Health Impacts

Women in the Workplace: PPE, Ergonomic, and Health Impacts

Companies with a stated goal of ensuring a safe, healthy, and high-performing workplace may be overlooking areas of risk that impact their employees and their bottom line.

 Let’s make sure you haven’t overlooked safety and health issues for the women in your workplace. Just like any unmitigated risk, you’re exposing the company not only to potential regulatory violations but also hits to your workers’ comp and health insurance premiums. Here are a few impacts to think about.

Personal Protective Equipment Impacts on Women

Did you know that most personal protective equipment is designed to fit the average-sized man? A men’s PPE in a smaller size doesn’t necessarily equate to an appropriate fit on a female body. This can lead to potential injury.

Inappropriate fit may lead to PPE avoidance. If you think about it, if something’s cumbersome, you’re less likely to use it. Some women steer clear of ill-fitting PPE to avoid being noticed for production slowdowns from impairments due to improperly fitting gear.

Also, replacements may not be as readily available for uncommon sizes. Employers can be less likely to buy in non-bulk quantities if only a small amount of people utilize a certain size.

Ergonomics and Equipment Impacts on Women 

Again, manufacturing equipment, tools, and industrial machinery are designed for the average male. 

According to the Trades Union Congress, a woman’s hand is approximately 2 cm shorter than a man which can lead to uncomfortable usage and inappropriate placement on hand tools. Looking a little lower down the body, the joint angle of the knee is wider in women due to broader hips. This can cause more strain on knees in women than men in instances involving standing for long periods.

Lastly, differences in height, strength, and other physical capabilities may necessitate different types of lifting equipment, ergonomic workstations, or other adaptations.

Keep this in mind as overlooked ergonomic risks can impact your workers’ comp premiums.

Workplace Health Impacts on Women

Health impacts women can experience in the workplace are important to keep an eye on as they may impact your health insurance premiums. This makes both your CFO and anyone paying for health insurance groan.

One key area to keep in mind is pregnancy and breastfeeding hazards working women may encounter in the workplace. Strenuous physical labor can potentially impact a woman’s pregnancy, as can exposure to hazardous chemicals such as lead, mercury, solvents, or radioactivity. Changes in metabolism during pregnancy can increase the absorption rate of chemicals. Employers should allow for adapted work tasks or complete a health hazard evaluation.

Another one most people don’t think about is bladder issues. How gross are your bathrooms? Inappropriate sanitation facilities lead many women to avoid using the restroom, increasing their risk for both kidney and bladder infections. It also may lead to less water consumption throughout the day, increasing the risk of heat stress and dehydration. Keep in mind that toilet facilities are covered under the OSHA Sanitation standards for General Industry, Construction, and Agriculture, with some variance between the three areas.

Want to keep both your CFO and your employees happy? Don’t neglect these workplace health areas.

Again, hat tip to KPA health and safety consultant Marian Kochin, who pulled together these data points as an internal training presentation for her peers on the consulting team. Such great data – it would be a disservice not to share with all of our readers. 

Here’s to helping all companies maintain a safe, healthy, and high-performing workplace!

About the Author

Toby Graham

Toby manages the marketing communications team here at KPA. She's on a quest to help people tell clear, fun stories that their audience can relate to. She's a HUGE sugar junkie...and usually starts wandering the halls looking for cookies around 3pm daily.
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