Industrial work wear has historically been designed around male body frames, due to the overwhelming demographic associated with this type of work up until now. With the number of women working in operational roles steadily increasing, Aramco recently took a fresh look at its range of personal protective equipment (PPE) with a view to changing this.
“Aramco’s priority has always been the protection of its people, and when the topic of gender and comfort was brought forward, we immediately set about addressing this,” says Loss Prevention Department (LPD) manager Ghassan Abulfaraj.
“A one-size-fits-all approach to PPE can undermine a safety program,” said Abulfaraj. “PPE is essential for the protection of our employees, and an important part of this is ensuring that equipment is not only compliant from a safety perspective, but also comfortable to wear.”
Safety and gender go hand-in-hand
Depending on their role, operational employees and contractors wear a range of PPE, including flame resistant clothing, boots, gloves, hard hats, safety glasses, and hearing protection.
With a goal of ensuring the safety and comfort of female personnel, Aramco initiated a project to enhance the company’s line of flame resistant clothing (FRC), including specific designs for the female workforce.
Aniela Zarzar Torano and Fatimah Barnawi, both LP engineers who worked as leads on the project, note that effective female PPE is more than simply a smaller or larger size of the male designs, especially in the Middle Eastern region.
“A female body frame is often shaped differently and generally smaller than a male frame. Having poorly fitting safety clothing can cause risks such as reduced agility, catching on equipment, and tripping,” said Zarzar Torano.
Barnawi adds: “Another unique aspect to this project — besides that of sizing and safety — was cultural requirements. We needed to work on a design that not only covered the areas of safety and comfort, but also one that met our female employees’ requirements for modesty.”
It was this recognition that led to a partnership with DuPont, one of the world’s leading companies in terms of science and innovation, to customize an FRC line that improved comfort and met cultural requirements, all while ensuring that all safety guidelines were maintained.
Practice makes perfect
Over a period of 18 months, LPD and Du Pont worked tirelessly on a number of design concepts that not only looked to improve design and comfort from a safety perspective, but also ensure that cultural requirements were met.
Speaking to the practical aspects of a project such as this, Zarzar Torano adds: “This clothing is the final line of defense that we have in the event of a fire. As such, we had to work through numerous designs, tests and practical trials to ensure that what we were signing off on was absolutely of the highest quality.”
Abulfaraj notes that what made this project unique is that it provided an opportunity to not only accommodate the needs of Saudi Aramco’s female workforce, but also lead the way in innovation to further improve FRC safety features for female employees across the industry.
“This wasn’t simply a project where we looked to alter the size of clothing; that could be done by anyone,” Abulfaraj says. “We wanted to use this opportunity to challenge the status quo, and to ask ourselves, “How can we do this better?”
The result was a new line of female FRC, inclusive of shirts and hijabs, which meets the requirements of safety, culture and comfort for the wearer. It includes:
- A double-layered flame resistant shirt, which features an integrated inner layer that allows female employees to maintain a conservative style without being exposed to potential burn injuries
- A flame resistant wrapped-around headscarf
- A flame resistant hood-type headscarf.
- While all personnel exposed to fire hazards must wear FRC as a final layer of protection, the use of the new flame resistant shirt is optional; employees can continue to use standard coveralls, or regular pants and shirt if they choose.
More than safety equipment
Work uniforms provide employees with a feeling of belonging and sense of identity, and this project has underlined such an ethos. With many more females taking up roles in traditionally male-dominated industries, the need for adaptation and innovation is increasing.
Aramco’s priority will always be the safety of its people, but it also believes that an inclusive and respectful workplace is essential, and it will do everything in its power to ensure that its deliver on both of these fronts.
While our core safety value ensures that any operational decision will always be made to ensure the safety of employees and contractors, the launch of this new line of protective clothing is indicative of where the industry — and indeed the company - is headed.
“Across Aramco’s multiple operations – both in Kingdom and around the world — we want all of our people to feel welcome, and that they belong,” says Aali M. Al Zahrani, vice president of Safety and Industrial Security.