Women are the backbone of the agricultural sector in South Africa, embodying immense resilience and dedication in their daily tasks. They play a vital role in the industry’s growth and rural community development yet face significant challenges. One such challenge is the physically demanding nature of agricultural work, and the associated lack of access to Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) specifically tailored to the female physique. Properly fitting PPE is not just about safety; it enhances productivity and well-being. Addressing these unmet needs with gender-appropriate safety wear is one of the most important steps that agricultural businesses can take in looking after their workforce on an equitable basis.

Occupational hazards and the need for tailored PPE

Some of the challenges that women in South African face include lower wages, limited access to training, and a disturbing prevalence of gender-based violence.  However, a significant yet often underestimated hurdle is the lack of appropriate PPE. In such an extremely cost-sensitive industry many farms and warehouses rely on unisex PPE, which fails to consider the physiological differences between men and women.

The agricultural workplace presents a multitude of hazards.  Warehouses, for example, can have wet or slippery floors, increasing the risk of slips, trips, and falls. Prolonged standing, a common occurrence with sorting and packing tasks, can lead to discomfort, fatigue, and musculoskeletal issues, particularly for pregnant women or those with pre-existing conditions. Additionally, handling crates, boxes, and produce can result in injuries, while ill-fitting footwear can cause blisters, discomfort, and contribute to back problems due to improper posture.  Loose clothing can snag on machinery, while bulky gloves limit dexterity. These inadequacies not only compromise safety but also hinder efficiency and productivity.

Essential PPE for women in warehousing

Properly designed PPE is one of the most effective ways to empower women in agriculture. This includes comfortable non-slip footwear, specifically designed to support the female foot through good arch support and a comfortable fit to minimise fatigue and potential injuries. It is also important to provide female workers with breathable overalls that are protective without compromising on comfort. This means fabrics that allow for ventilation while offering protection from harsh chemicals. This is particularly important for women working in sorting and packaging environments, as proper attire minimises the risk of skin damage and exposure to harmful substances. Hand and eye protection are essential, and the appropriate gloves must be chosen to protect hands from abrasions and chemical exposure during sorting and packaging activities. Eye protection is necessary to shield against debris and airborne particles, ensuring the safety of women’s vision in hazardous work environments.

The impact of tailored PPE on safety and productivity

Investing in tailored PPE for women is so much more than ensuring workplace safety. Comfortable and well-fitting safety wear reduces fatigue, improves posture, and minimises the risk of musculoskeletal issues which can have long term health implications.  This translates to increased productivity and efficiency, allowing women to perform their jobs with greater ease and without distraction or discomfort.  Furthermore, proper PPE empowers women, fostering a sense of confidence and inclusivity in their work environment.

Breaking gender inequality barriers in the workplace

The agricultural sector depends on the diversity of its workforce.  By prioritising women’s safety and well-being through female-specific PPE, we can create a more inclusive and equitable environment, which paves the way for more women to participate in the industry, which ultimately contributes to a more sustainable and productive agricultural sector.

Industry leaders can drive change by educating farmers and distributors to raise awareness about the importance of gender-specific PPE and its benefits for both safety and productivity. This can be done by promoting education and training programs that focus on safety best practices for women and the importance of using the right PPE. Businesses in this sector can explore partnerships with PPE manufacturers and heed the demand for a wider range of PPE options specifically designed for the needs of women in agriculture.

Bridging the gap in PPE accessibility for women
Neglecting the specific PPE needs of women in agriculture isn’t just a safety lapse; it’s a missed opportunity for progress. By prioritising tailored PPE designed for the female form, we can foster a safer, more inclusive industry. By ensuring every woman has access to proper protection, we empower them to thrive, pave the way for gender equality, and cultivate a more prosperous future for South African agriculture. This isn’t just about providing equipment; it’s about investing in the future of our agricultural workforce.

Desiree Hlubi, Sisi Brand Manager at BBF Safety Group

By Admin