OSHA's announcement this week of their proposal to include "proper fitting" PPE in the language for the standard governing construction made me think about what it means and if it will really help drive companies to offer PPE options that actually fit better. OSHA states that this should help increase clarity regarding PPE selection and also could better protect workers that are frustrated by ill-fitting garments. And this is not just for women, who have historically had a hard time being outfitted, but for workers of all shapes and sizes, we know there are many!
Merriam-Webster defines the word proper (an adjective) as “strictly accurate" and "marked by suitability, rightness, or appropriateness.” Applied specifically to clothing, I would add that proper fitting clothing means garments that are tailored to fit a person's body shape and size, providing a comfortable and flattering appearance. This includes consideration of factors like sleeve length, waist size, shoulder width, and overall length to achieve the desired fit.
With this in mind, I think it's pretty clear how to apply the term proper fitting to PPE selection (which is already found in general industry and maritime clauses). BUT…
As an organization, it's easy to just stock the sizes you may think your workers need… Where is the "proper fitting" analysis? While most may perform the required hazard assessment related to PPE selection, does it include suitability, rightness, or appropriateness? I would argue that sending a woman to the field in oversized men's clothes is not appropriate. And "just because that's what we have” is no longer acceptable.
As a safety professional, it's easy to say that you are simply supplying what your employer has approved… But where is the consideration of proper fitting? Hazard assessments determine what level of protection is needed AND it should also address the suitability, rightness, or appropriateness of the garments that are being selected and who they are specifically being selected for.
As a woman working in industry, when the only garments available from the employer's safety closet are NOT proper fitting (for the reasons above), we are forced to go to the field in ill-fitting clothing that is not necessarily suitable, right, or appropriate. And there's nothing proper about that!
These are the exact reasons this language that is incorporated into the standards governing PPE selection is still challenging… Unless people advocate for themselves or push back that their employer isn't providing "proper fitting" PPE, then it is actually not making the change that is intended.
There are more options for PPE available in the market than at any other point in time. That is a good thing! But getting employers to not only stock these items in safety closets but allowing their employees access to these options remains a challenge. And truly assessing the suitability, rightness, or appropriateness of chosen options needs to be included in the hazard assessments.
While I know this language is important to be included in the standard, it really is up to employers to ensure they are interpreting "proper fitting" in a way that considers the diverse workforce and allow their PPE programs to match the needs of all the workers. What you wear to work matters, especially when it's intended to protect you.
If you are looking for a new FRC option for any of your female workers reach out! Let's ensure your employees get the proper PPE they deserve.