Over the years, women in various trades have encountered significant safety hazards. For many, these circumstances existed because personal protective equipment (PPE) didn't fit female employees correctly. It wasn't until 1999 that OSHA decided it was time for manufacturers to make some changes.
Fortunately, improvements in PPE have been making a significant impact on how well women fit into their gear — and the construction work culture as a whole. As the number of women in construction grows, it's essential to take a look at how far PPE has come.
The Effects of Poor PPE
When women began to enter craft professions during World War II, they quickly realized the gear they needed to wear wasn't adequate. At the time, this situation made sense — up until that point, males dominated these positions. There wasn't much for these women to do in wartime, so they had to grin and bear it.
For decades, women wore large coveralls and massive glasses that impacted their work. This gear was also a safety hazard — PPE that doesn't fit is awkward, which makes it hard for the individual to concentrate. As men arrived at job sites and completed their duties, their female counterparts ended up dealing with a whole lot more.
Without the correct gear, professionals put themselves at risk. Hats that don't fit properly can fall off, while eyewear is only useful if it's secured snugly on the face. The same goes for footwear. In a 2006 survey, a female sawmill worker reported she had to wear men's boots, so she suffered from cuts and blisters. She tripped as she walked, and the steel toe of the boot didn't shield the tops of her feet.
That's only one example of how inadequate PPE impacts a woman in her daily work. Safety is a must on all job sites — female employees must be able to complete their tasks without risk of injury.
PPE in the Modern Era
Now that more than 1 million women work in the construction industry, the right PPE must be available. Thankfully, over the past 20 years, many organizations have made it a point to advocate for female construction workers.
Today, manufacturers are aware that men and women require different types of apparel. As such, they've begun to make PPE specifically designed to suit a range of body types and sizes. Because of this, female employees have more choice and say in the matter. This wide selection allows every individual the opportunity to find that perfect fit.
These options include eye, face, head and hand protection, as well as footwear — all of which are necessary to achieve a safe and productive work environment. Newer PPE even comes in several designs and colors. Many men and women alike in the field appreciate this factor, as it allows for self-expression.
However, even though better PPE exists, some supervisors don't know to make it a priority. This is where improved safety training and educational initiatives can make a difference for construction teams. If supervisors are unaware of women’s specific safety needs or team members are uncomfortable coming forward with concerns, then the information gap can prevent positive change.
The Future of PPE
The International Safety Equipment Association, in coordination with OSHA, now wants to pave a new path for PPE for women. The goal is to make it more universal and accessible. This way, female employees will become comfortable enough to wear it — and they'll know it exists in the first place.
Currently, there are several types of PPE made for women in the construction industry. But there's still room for improvement. Manufacturers, along with business owners, should make it their mission to accommodate the growing number of women in the field. Supervisors then have to provide this gear to their workers, or at least tell them it's an option.
Work environments should change, as well. As the number of women in all trades increases every year, this is a must. As a result of better work cultures, women can recognize the resources available within their workplaces. They'll also feel included in the ongoings of the workplace. These efforts will ensure that every employee can do their job well regardless of gender.
All Workers Need Personal Protection
Female-specific PPE has indeed come a long way. What used to be a male-dominated workforce now sees more and more women every year. To accommodate them, manufacturers, organizations and employers have come together to make improvements.
The future of women in construction relies on PPE as a means to keep them safe. Fortunately, the industry has come a long way in the past few decades to improve job site safety for every worker.