Personal Protective Equipment (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 have 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.

“For me, PPE that’s designed for a smaller-framed body just makes my job safer,” says Rudy Mulligan, a carpenter with the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America Local 157. “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, 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.

After Henry’s home in Houston was damaged severely by Hurricane Harvey in 2017, she served as general contractor on the repairs. During that time, she realized there was a 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.

OSHA Proposes Fine for HB Fuller

Sealant maker HB Fuller, operating as Adhesive Systems Inc., is facing proposed penalties totaling $587,564 for 18 health and safety violations that the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) says it discovered at the company’s facility in Frankfort, Ill.

OSHA cited HB Fuller for failing to provide employees with respirator fit tests and respirators appropriate for hazardous atmospheres; require bonding and grounding when transferring flammable liquids; ensure that electrical equipment was approved for use in hazardous atmospheres; and conduct a personal protective equipment assessment. According to OSHA, the violations occurred in January, February and May of this year.

“This employer failed to provide a safe and healthful workplace,” said OSHA Chicago South Area Office Director Kathy Webb. “The company needlessly exposed workers to hazards by failing to provide necessary training or conduct a required workplace hazard assessment.”

Heather Bacigalupo, HB Fuller corporate communications manager, said the company is in ongoing conversations with OSHA about the matter and wouldn’t issue a formal comment at this time.

The company has contested the citations. The case will now be reviewed by the Occupational Safety and Review Committee, which could take up to a year.

HB Fuller, based in St. Paul, Minn., makes sealant and adhesive products for a number of industries including fenestration and construction.

Improve Project Productivity with Safety and Quality

Improving jobsite safety is a priority of many glass and glazing companies. Creating a safety culture that is integrated into a company’s culture of quality workmanship is an effective way to get workers thinking about safety throughout the project.

In the webinar “Finding Gold at the Intersection of Construction Quality and Safety” hosted by ENR, construction industry experts gave tips for implementing a safety culture that works with, not against, a company’s overall project goals.

Bill Weber, principal at Gaston Electrical, said, “You can’t deliver a quality product without a quality safety program.”

He said companies need to communicate consistently with the project team and eliminate the mentality that shortcuts are okay.

Preplanning is one step that can increase productivity and efficiency while also improving safety. This ensures that workers have all the resources required to do their jobs before they do it.

Rules Versus Choice

According to Steve Pianalto, director of environmental, health and safety at CRB, there is a difference between complying with a company’s safety rules and choosing safety.

“If no one at a company is wearing personal protective equipment that can influence how people behave. The safety culture of an organization influences people’s choices,” said Pianalto. “What I’ve learned over the past 15 years is that we need behavior-based programs that get people to comply with safety rules, but we also need to know what’s driving people so that we can drive them to choose safety.”

One way to improve safety and project efficiency is to combine construction and design to form one team.

“There are often breakdowns during the handover from design to construction. They’re not completely communicating what’s required or the design is not construction ready,” said Pianalto. “We need to work on aligning owners, construction teams and design teams. A seamless process improves quality.”

He said that different teams on a project can have competing commitments unintentionally. Setting up clear expectations can mitigate mistakes or challenges created by a lack of communication.

Safety, Quality and Production

Kevin Hildebrandt, director of risk management at Miron Construction Co. Inc., suggests implementing a quick program in the morning to help workers switch from a home mentality to a work mentality.

“We also preplan by laying out our expectations for the day. We lay out our quality expectations and then the safety measures that go along with those,” he said.

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