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Are there cultural and ethical considerations when choosing PPE for your workforce?

What to consider when choosing PPE

It’s commonly known that PPE has never been a “one-size-fits-all” scenario. Humans not only vary physically with different heights, shapes, sizes, ages and gender but also differ in their beliefs and views. For example, staff with religious or ethical backgrounds share diverse and important personal beliefs throughout their everyday lives, including whilst at work.


Employers are starting to consider the values of their employees and to not only provide workwear that protects their staff but also ensures they are not forced into any uncomfortable situation by wearing clothing or PPE that conflicts with their personal beliefs.


We live in an inclusive, diverse and evolving world. That’s why it is vital to ensure the personal protective equipment and workwear you provide are suitable for everyone taking into account any ethical and cultural beliefs while keeping employees safe.

What cultural values should be considered when choosing PPE?

According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), based on population survey figures from 2019, people from ethnic minority backgrounds make up 14.4% of the United Kingdom. That’s over 9 million people! So, keeping this in mind, how can employers be mindful of their employee’s values and beliefs?


  1. Understand different types of PPE: Did you know most latex gloves are dipped in milk protein? Learning about the different types of products available and ensuring that employees have a choice of PPE that aligns with their values and beliefs helps show a culture of consideration.
  2. Take time to understand your employees: Your employees might have religious beliefs which exempts them from wearing specific PPE or have ethical values and might not feel comfortable with certain products. For example, turban-wearing Sikhs are exempt from any legal requirement to wear head protection in the workplace and employees that are vegan might be more comfortable wearing/using vegan-friendly products.
  3. Provide modesty wear: Women may prefer to wear longer-length or long sleeve Hi-Vis clothing due to cultural reasons or because they feel most comfortable in longer covering. For example, this LEO modesty tunic we carry may be appropriate for a range of women.
  4. Create an open environment: Giving employees the choice to choose their own PPE can make them feel valued and create some agency over their own safety while ensuring their ethical, religious and cultural beliefs are not compromised.


How can ethical choices, like veganism, affect PPE selections?

Veganism is the practice of abstaining from the ingestion or use of animal products. An ethical vegan is someone who not only follows a plant-based diet but extends the philosophy into other areas of their lives and tries to avoid any cruelty and exploitation of all animals, including humans.


It is also worth noting that veganism comes within the scope of legal protection under the 2010 Equality Act – this, therefore, places a legal obligation upon employers to ensure that they do everything they can to avoid discriminating.


According to YouGov, around 5% (over 3 million or 1 in 20) of people in the UK now consider themselves Vegan, and the high-street supermarket chain Sainsbury’s, predicts that 25% of the UK population will be vegetarian or vegan by 2025. The shift towards veganism is undeniable; if the predictions are correct, over 16 million people in the UK could be vegan within the next few years. Therefore, it is worth considering the PPE choices you offer your employees to ensure they feel comfortable and safe. 


Here at Stronghold Global, we work closely with our selective partners to provide many vegan PPE options for workers. Our workwear experts can advise on alternative materials to traditional leather, latex, or clothing that contains animal by-products. Many of these options are not part of our next-day delivery service; therefore, it’s best to speak with a consultant to learn all the products we can provide.

Can employees refuse to wear PPE?

A situation may occur where an employee refuses to wear provided PPE. It’s essential to know why and how, as an employee, you can rectify this. In a previous article we wrote, “Three Reasons that Employees can Refuse to Wear the PPE Provided”, we briefly touched on three main reasons a worker may refuse to wear provided safety wear; these include: 


Medical conditions: Skin conditions like eczema or psoriasis can be irritated by certain materials, making the PPE uncomfortable or even dangerous to wear. 


Ill-fitting or unsafe PPE: The law states PPE must be suitable. Therefore, overlong trousers or sleeves which can get caught can be dangerous and cause injury could be a reason for the end-user refusing to wear their PPE.  


Religious reasons: As noted above, Sikhs wearing turbans are exempt from hard hats on site according to the Employment Act 1989, Appendix 2. Whilst within the employee’s rights, such refusal doesn’t diminish the employer’s duty and legal requirement to keep their staff safe. Employers need to find alternative construction workwear that suits the employee’s needs and protects them according to legislation.

Why is it important to consider the individual worker and their beliefs?

Our society is diverse, and our beliefs are strong. It is what makes us unique humans. Increasingly people are making decisions to work with companies that recognise and genuinely accommodate different cultures and values and that give people a choice regarding what they are required to wear for safety. While typically spending five days a week in the workplace, staff need to feel protected from danger and supported in a positive atmosphere to enable them to thrive.

How can Stronghold Global Help?

Our workwear specialists can offer a free assessment of the Personal Protective Equipment and workwear that you already have in use and recommend the best alternatives, taking into consideration any religious, cultural and ethical beliefs.


To find out more, speak with our team at Stronghold Global today, call us on 0845 208 4500 or email [email protected] and speak to our specialist. 

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