More than 80% of women experience problems with protective workwear not fitting properly or being uncomfortable or inadequate, according to research.

A survey by international standards specialist CSA Group of 3,000 women in Canada who use personal protective equipment (PPE) daily in their jobs showed that PPE designed for men was not suitable for women.

The report found that, while there were some options for women, suppliers fell back on a basic concept of “shrink it and pink it” rather than use data on sizes, body shapes and capacities. It added that this approach did not work because “women are not merely scaled-down versions of men”.

Over a third of women said that the PPE they used was designed for men, 85% said that they had been hampered at work by their PPE, and around half indicated that they must adjust their PPE each time they put it on, or at least once per shift.

The report found that women often paid out of their own pocket to source equipment that fitted better, and 38% incorporated a workaround such as rubber bands and duct tape. Nearly 40% reported experiencing an injury or incident related to their ill-fitting PPE.

Responding to the report, Kelly Fernandes, specialised consultant for occupational hygiene at Canadian Workplace Safety and Prevention Services, said: “For example, females typically have shorter torsos and legs than males but are wider in the chest and hips. They also have smaller hands and different-sized fingers.”

As a result, fit and comfort – the two essential ingredients when it comes to the design and use of PPE – were sacrificed for women, she explained. “When PPE doesn’t fit properly, it can’t protect against workplace hazards effectively and it can lead to workplace injuries. Altering the PPE to fit, as many women are forced to do, also introduces risks.”