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Last edited 02 Feb 2022
Getting personal about protective equipment
ICE Fellow Paula McMahon confesses how and why her protective clothes have not fit, and why this matters.
 Accepting the fact that nothing fits
Many of you reading this will know your clothes size. The lucky readers will still fit in that outfit you bought while at school. I do not. Holidays, celebrations and lockdowns all contribute to the need to have a selection of sizes in my wardrobe, many with elasticated waists!
But what has this got to do with engineering? Well, until I started to think about writing this, I would have said absolutely nothing. However, I have been dwelling on the contrasts between my home clothing and that in my locker at work. Why do I have multiple sizes of female clothes at home vs my single-sized male PPE at work?
 My [Im]personal protective equipment
Let's go back a few decades for some context.
No boots today - the smallest men’s boots in stock didn’t fit despite the ‘helpful' comments about wearing more socks. My new, smaller boots in the smallest men’s size available were on order, after more than a little grumbling. These would prove to only fit with the help of multiple layers of thick socks.
But I was super chuffed with my haul. After all, my hat fit, or rather it would when I figured out the slidey thing!
 Things should fit!
I'd like to say that this changed the next time I needed PPE, but it didn’t. At some point, when ladies’ protective boots became available, they were ‘too expensive’ and ‘not in the catalogue’. Not a problem, I bought them myself.
My last set of PPE was obtained probably seven years ago. My female size 5 boots and adjustable hat now both fit. But the rest is ill-fitting and uncomfortable, despite my adjustments to take up the trouser legs and move buttons.
He asked: "Was it uncomfortable?"
I answered: "Absolutely, but aren’t they all?"
He responded: "No, they should fit!"
With his help, we quickly found the ‘lady harness’ supplier and ordered one. My remaining harness-wearing shifts were a delight. My ‘bits’ welcomed the lack of squishing.
So why do I have a work locker full of clothes that don't fit? I have to confess I simply picked my last lot of PPE off the shelf from the items in our store. I did not look for, and never considered, an alternative.
I will never know if I had asked for a brochure, that one filled to the brim with appropriate clothing would have been presented to me. I do, however, know that today my company offers a wide range of ladies’ PPE in its standard company catalogue. No comments, no grumbling, no special orders, no wait, no fuss.
So why don’t my clothes fit? Is it years of unconscious conditioning into acceptance? Has it been a lack of knowledge that sometime over the last 30 years, a women’s PPE market has been created? Is it those extra lockdown chocolates? I confess, it's probably a little from all those things.
But why does it matter? Well, it certainly isn’t style related.
Quite simply, ill-fitting PPE is unsafe and hinders free movement. Long sleeves get in the way, turned up and long trousers are a potential trip hazard and pockets can’t be used when the zips are straining at the seams at my ‘pinch points’!
This article originally appeared on the ICE Community Blog portion of the ICE website under the headline, 'Safety over style: getting personal about my protective equipment'. It was written by Paula McMahon, ICE Fellow and published on 19 March 2021.
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