Unisex footwear: does the shoe fit?

Unisex footwear: does the shoe fit?

Predahni Naidoo, brand manager at Sisi Safety Wear, explains why the right safety footwear is key to female workers’ comfort and well-being.

Industries’ requirements for safety footwear and other personal protection equipment (PPE) have historically been male dominated, but this trend is changing. More and more women are entering the workforce, including areas of “hard labour” like mining, manufacturing and construction.

This means that more women require PPE, and herein lies a challenge. Procurement officers tend to simply buy smaller sizes of men’s safety wear to cater to their female workforce, but a woman’s body is not smaller than a man’s – it has a different anatomy.

When it comes to footwear, the wrong fit can be detrimental to comfort. Procurement officers need to look at procuring safety equipment and footwear designed specifically for women to ensure their dignity, comfort, health and well-being. The cost of buying male or unisex safety wear for women, rather than women-specific, can be significantly higher in the long term.

The impact of footwear

Ill-fitting footwear can cause a range of health problems, including foot pain and foot disorders. The Journal of Foot and Ankle Research, the official journal of the Australian Podiatry Association and The College of Podiatry, notes that “footwear cannot fulfil its intended purpose if it does not fit the foot correctly”.

What often happens is that women’s feet oscillate in badly fitted shoes, which may have long-term health implications and can cause calf injuries, muscle strain and back problems. In addition, their feet could slip out of the boots, leaving them vulnerable to accidental injury.

This doesn’t only have an impact on their well-being: there are also economic implications from reduced productivity and increased sick leave, medical claims and workmen’s compensation, all of which negatively affect the bottom line.

Cosmetic changes do not suffice

When it comes to female-specific safety footwear, mere cosmetic changes are not enough. They fail to address the underlying problems that cause discomfort and can affect a female employee’s well-being. This is concerning – and avoidable, as there are locally produced, women-specific options available.

Aside from the safety and economic aspects of ill-fitting safety wear, women’s dignity can also be negatively affected. To make women feel comfortable and truly included in the workforce, procurement needs to focus on obtaining safe, effective and specific safety wear for them.

Sisi Safety Wear has invested in research to understand the specific needs of women in safety within the different sectors. We offer solutions to meet various requirements within the areas of safety footwear, workwear and fall arrests.

There is a reason men and women shop for gender-specific clothing in general; so, with locally produced, women-specific safety wear readily available, are you doing the right thing for your female workforce?

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SHEQ Management

SHEQ MANAGEMENT is the definitive source for reliable, accurate and pertinent information to guarantee environmental health and safety in the workplace.
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