Gender Specific PPE

Our ref: HSR/2/3

Head Office Circular: NP/87/23

16th May 2023

To: The Secretary





Dear Colleague,




Your Southampton Shipping Branch submitted the following resolution:


This Southampton Shipping Branch notes that some of the current PPE provided to RFA female employees is believed is both impractical and gender discriminatory. 


This branch believes that the basic supplied boiler suit/coveralls should be gender specific to which is meant that unisex fittings do not take into the difference in body curves etc. that differentiate those members employed by RFA that identify as female as those that identify as male or gender neutral. 


Noting that the following is accepted as law:


“Equality law also requires employers to treat women no less favourably than men. PPE cannot be used as the main “first-line” protection against hazards. Instead, employers must try to remove or reduce any risk through other means, such as substituting dangerous chemicals for less dangerous ones, or installing barriers or ventilation, but PPE is common in many workplaces.”


And that in a recent study, the TUC found that “57% of women stated that their PPE sometimes or significantly hampered their work.”


It should also be noted that there are further impractical measures with the boiler suit/coverall PPE for our members that are, or identify as, female, which we note as the following: 


Many of our female RFA workers, or those that identify as female, have regularly complained about the coveralls supplied make it very inconvenient for female or those that identify as female workers, to use the toilet while wearing them. There is a Velcro opening at the front which is semi practical for male workers, but for female workers it is very impractical to go to the bathroom or have necessary comfort breaks. 


These coveralls also do not take into consideration the differential curvatures between male and female members which may be constrictive for those not identifying as male.  


It should be noted that being able to go to the bathroom without impracticality should be a human right and not up for debate, regardless of gender identification. 


It is also noted that isn’t just a matter of having to take off the coveralls to use the bathroom. The coveralls form a base layer over which several other pieces of PPE are often worn, such as foul weather clothing, life jackets, safety harnesses etc. and it is a major operation and irritation to have to strip these all off in order to remove the coveralls. As the type of work that employees within RFA are called to do may regularly involve long periods of time spent in these non-gender specific coveralls as base layers below various other pieces of PPE, it should be taken that the discomfort and potential mental anguish which female members end up having to experience as a result is both morally and we believe legally wrong. 


This branch resolves that there could be a ready-made practical option to overcome this biased and sexist issue. RFA issue all employees with first layer PPE known as PCS, which current employer policy dictates are to be used for “clean jobs” only.  Our members could be issued locally with the trouser/jacket combination for “dirty jobs” which would allow for easier comfort breaks noting that the “PCS” is more gender friendly than current local issue coveralls, in conjunction with PCS PPE kept specifically for “clean jobs”.  The second option that should be proposed is that the RFA, either as a stand-alone option or in conjunction with the previously laid out option, approaches the procurement provider to ensure that there are available to our members appropriate PPE in the form of coveralls that are non-gender discriminatory in their fittings and sizes, so that there are different versions of the coveralls for those that identify as both male and female. 


Therefore, this branch requests the General Secretary, through the NEC, instructs the Lead Officer and RFA Convenor to make immediate contact with RFA management on this issue.



At its meeting on 10th May 2023, your National Executive Committee (NEC) resolved as follows:


We note and thanks Southampton Shipping branch for the resolution and instruct the General Secretary to carry out the sentiments of the resolution.


Any further updates to be placed before the NEC.



I am acting in line with these instructions. Please bring the contents of this circular to the attention of relevant members. 


Yours sincerely



Michael Lynch

General Secretary