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Dummies are prepared for a car crash-test. (REUTERS/Michael Dalder)

Deadly consequences

Women’s safety is routinely put at risk by products designed with men in mind

By WITW Staff on April 16, 2019

Largely forgotten amid the many forms of discrimination faced by women is the fact that health studies, products and work environments are often designed for men — in some cases, with disastrous consequences.

For instance, in the United Kingdom, employers are legally required to provide employees with free personal protective equipment if their jobs could cause bodily harm. But almost all such equipment is designed to fit men — with employers simply offering women smaller sizes of men’s safety products. As a result, 95 percent of women in emergency services report that ill-fitting protective equipment has interfered with their work.

In 1997, a British female police officer was stabbed and killed after she was forced to remove ill-fitting equipment during a raid. In 1999, another police officer reported that she had to pursue breast-reduction surgery because the body armor she was given had caused severe health problems. After she came forward, another 700 officers in the same force complained about the fit of the standard-issue protective vest, which lifted up their breasts so their stomachs were exposed.

In commercial settings such as the car industry, almost all manufacturers rely solely on crash-test dummies designed to resemble the average man. Furthermore, few women conform to the “standard seating position” used in safety design because their shorter legs force them to move the seat closer to the car pedals.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, women are 47 percent more likely to be seriously injured in car crashes than men, and 17 percent more likely to die. Car crashes are also reportedly the number one cause of fetal death in the European Union. An estimated 62 percent of third-trimester pregnant women cannot fit into a standard seatbelt.

In workplaces with lots of women employees like nail salons, workers are exposed to a wide range of chemicals associated with birth defects and respiratory problems. But nearly no research has been done on how consistent exposure to such chemicals affects women. Smartphones, too, are made for men — designers have sized the average phone to be perfect for a typical man’s hand. And if you’re a female astronaut, don’t count on your space agency having the right sized protective suit for you — double check before you go into orbit.

Read the full story at the Guardian.

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