PPE for Women: The Struggle for Safety

Personal protective equipment (PPE) is vital to the safety of every worker on the jobsite, but tradeswomen often are made to wear PPE that is too big or doesn’t fit well. Sisters in the Building Trades has created a forum for tradeswomen to discuss relevant topics and share information, including where to buy PPE designed specifically for women. A new company called See Her Work is hoping to help tradeswomen across the U.S. be safer in the field.

“I’m currently fighting to get a safety harness that fits me properly … I’m on the second one so far and have to make my apprentice do all the work near leading edges while waiting for the third try,” says Melanie Malcolm, an electrician with International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 46.

“For me, PPE that’s designed for a smaller-framed body just makes my job safer. Gloves that fit my fingertips snuggly help me grip my tools better, help me pull myself up to the ledge better, help me hold nuts and bolts and screws better,” adds Rudy Mulligan, a carpenter with the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America Local 157. “Respirators that fit snug on my face improve my peripheral vision. If I can see more, I can react quicker and safer than when I can see less.”

Comments like these are plentiful. That’s why Jane Henry, CEO of See Her Work, is hoping people take notice.

“I’m a woman on a mission to save lives. I want to help attract and retain women in these lucrative careers,” she says.

Henry’s home in Houston was damaged severely by Hurricane Harvey in 2017. She served as general contractor on the repairs of her home. During that tip, she realized the lack of well-fitting work clothes for women.  Henry researched and took her findings to Rice University, where she was an MBA student at the time.

“All these ladies needed basic stuff,” she says, “from tops that close higher to protect against dust and debris falling into their undergarments, to kit bags that would allow females to quickly change roles from field worker to office worker to mom with a ‘grab and go’ approach to organization.”

Tradeswomen told Henry they were tired of the “pink it and shrink it” approach to PPE.

“My biggest goal is awareness. Women are growing in the industry. We’re seeing 11-percent growth year-over-year. I want to see that continue to grow. I’m tired of the myth that women are not suited for these jobs,” says Henry. “I want to dress women to feel comfortable and confident.”

Henry says that code changes are needed to accommodate tradeswomen. See Her Work makes gloves, safety vests, work shirts, protective undergarments and bags all designed with women in mind.

“Our high visibility long sleeve meets Class 3 requirements. Our extra small doesn’t because the amount of material and tape doesn’t meet the requirements,” she says. “At some point standards will have to change. I’m hoping manufacturers can lead that charge.”

See Her Work offers clothing in sizes from extra small to 3X, or 00 to 24.

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