Today we are seeing more women in construction – and with that comes a need to address women’s safety. In 2014, 367 women died on the job, according to the National Safety Council, and 350,000 injuries caused women to miss days of work.
When a safety exposure cannot be addressed through an engineering control or an administrative method, personal protective equipment (PPE) is one way these numbers can be decreased. PPE is a major line of defense against injury on the job-site, which means it is critical that all workers are outfitted with safety equipment that fits properly.
When women don’t have the proper PPE to wear on the job-site, they may try to alter the PPE, for example, by punching additional holes in the straps. This compromises the integrity of the equipment and renders it useless. Even worse, women may opt not to wear the PPE at all.
As the number of women in the construction industry continues to grow, manufacturers of safety equipment must adapt to the needs of this growing demographic. As the leader of your team, you must then ensure PPE is provided.
Our industry experts, Patricia Urtecho and Tara LeDuc, Senior Risk Management Consultants, join us to share their experiences as women in the industry and discuss why it is so important to create and provide PPE with women in mind.
Most of today’s standard PPE was developed for a predominantly male workforce. Women in the industry often find themselves wearing gear that is too large or disproportionate for their body types.
When equipment is too large, it no longer protects the wearer and can also pose new safety risks:
- Poorly fitting coveralls and gloves can reduce mobility and dexterity.
- Baggy clothing and ill-fitting shoe covers raise the risk of catching on equipment and increase the likelihood of tripping or falling.
- Hard hats are often too large for women and slip forward, obstructing vision, or too-large hard hats fall off entirely, leaving women subject to head injuries.
DON’T subject women on your team to these risks by providing PPE that does not fit them properly. It is extremely dangerous to them and others on the job-site.
DO ask that workers report ill-fitting PPE. It is your responsibility to ensure a safe environment for all workers, and this includes provision of properly fitting safety gear.
Provide training for all employees on proper fit and use of safety equipment so they are able to recognize worn or ill-fitting safety equipment.
When looking for PPE as a worker or an employer, remember that one size does not fit all and that ill-fitting PPE does not provide appropriate protection for workers.
New technologies are being explored in PPE manufacturing, and gear with flexible construction is becoming more readily available. This includes moisture-wicking, stretch-capable clothing and hard hats that are sized for women. With these innovations, women are able to wear PPE that is safer and more comfortable in their work environment.
DON’T attempt to alter PPE beyond any built-in adjustment features. All gear should be certified to specific standards, and alterations to the gear can make the garment no longer compliant – and ultimately unsafe.
DO work with manufacturers that provide PPE for women. The Electronic Library of Construction Occupational Safety and Health provides a list of approved manufacturers that make PPE for women. It is a valuable resource and can be found here. This list was provided by the International Safety Equipment Association (ISEA).
We also recommend looking into the options available through SPI here (discounts are available if you are a current Builders Mutual policyholder).
As the industry welcomes a more gender-diverse environment, advocacy for the proper PPE is important. The ISEA has made progress, and many manufacturers now provide gear suitable for all workers – both male and female.
DON’T sit back and wait for progress to be made. Whether you are a worker or employer, you should be aware of how to obtain health and safety products specifically for women.
DO advocate for this cause. As more individuals speak out, availability and range of products will increase at the distribution level.
Everyone deserves PPE that fits properly. Workers are more inclined to wear properly fitting PPE and maintain compliance with OSHA. Providing a safe and healthy environment for a diverse workforce should be welcomed by all employers and workers.
If you are a woman in construction and have questions or concerns, check out this article where industry experts address encouragement of a gender-diverse workforce, or visit the National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC) website for resources, connections, and events that are available to you.