Women’s safety footwear – why ‘unisex’ designs don’t always measure up

Women’s safety footwear – why ‘unisex’ designs don’t always measure up

clock-circular-outline Posted 30 Aug 2022



For years, women have had to choose between ill-fitting safety footwear designed for their male counterparts, or so-called ‘ladies’ safety shoes modified according to the “shrink it and pink it” philosophy.

In an industry striving to improve employee retention, health, safety and wellbeing, this is shocking. At iSB Group, we believe women deserve better.


Women in UK logistics

There are more than two million people working in logistics in the UK. Most recent estimates suggest around a third of these are women. (Source: Prologis survey, 2019)

And yet, despite a big push for increased safety among logistics companies, women are not being provided with safety footwear, workwear and PPE that is designed to fit their bodies and meet their specific needs.

At iSB Group, we provide high quality workwear, safety footwear and hi vis PPE that is specifically designed for women, but we know that what we have to offer represents much less choice than that which we can offer male workers.

Sadly, many leading manufacturers don’t make workwear and PPE for women – preferring instead to provide a ‘unisex’ option or ladies fit a lot lower in quality.


Do women really need different safety footwear to men?

Yes! Women’s feet are a different shape, which is why footwear designed to fit men’s feet is unlikely to fit them properly.

While unisex footwear has its place, and may be a good choice for some women working in some logistics roles, it too is designed using men’s feet as a guide, so isn’t a complete solution.

Since properly-fitting safety footwear helps to guard against workplace injuries, it is essential that women have the option to wear safety shoes, boots and trainers that are designed specifically for their feet.


Men and women’s feet compared – what’s the difference?

In general, women’s feet are smaller than men’s, but this in itself isn’t usually an issue – safety footwear comes in a wide variety of sizes and half-sizes.

The key factor affecting fit is that they are also usually a different shape. Women’s feet tend to be narrower than men’s, with higher arches. A woman’s heel is usually narrower in relation to the width of the ball of her foot, and women tend to have Achilles tendons that are smaller and higher than men’s, a shallower big toe, a lower instep, and a more curved inside line.

Women and men also walk differently, which changes the support features they need from their footwear. Women tend to take shorter, more frequent strides compared to men of the same height, and are more prone to rolling their feet inwards as they walk – a movement known as ‘pronating’ the feet that, without proper additional arch support to correct, can increase the likelihood of twisting an ankle.


Women’s safety footwear: one size does not fit all

Ill-fitting safety footwear isn’t just uncomfortable, it is potentially dangerous. Safety shoes that are too big may provide insufficient ankle or arch support to protect against injury. If the wearer’s feet move around inside them as they walk, this can cause blisters, corns and callouses. Footwear that doesn’t fit properly can also contribute to slips, trips and falls that can have devastating consequences.

Moreover, wearing footwear that is the wrong size and shape actually changes the way someone walks, as they either avoid placing pressure on painful areas, or try to stop a shoe that is too large from slipping off. This change in gait puts additional strain on other areas of the body, which can lead to musculoskeletal disorders.

For safety footwear to do its job of protecting the wearer, it needs to fit properly.

But providing safe footwear for all isn’t the only reason that we need more workwear and PPE designed specifically for women – it’s also the right thing to do. Only by doing so can the logistics industry show that everyone – regardless of gender – is valued and respected for their individual contribution to the collective effort of keeping the UK moving.

By Mark Fishwick

You might also like

clock-circular-outline Posted 26 Mar 2023
clock-circular-outline Posted 26 Mar 2023