Women in Construction:
the need for PPE
According to the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety, women
remain dramatically under-represented in the construction industry, accounting
for only 12 per cent of the total workforce. Nearly 75 per cent of women work in
off-site occupations such as business administration, management and sales.
Still, almost 170,000 women are now working at construction sites in Canada and
wearing PPE is critical to keeping them safe.
When it comes to PPE, a problem with fit persists. In a 2014 study of female
construction workers in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine, the majority
of participants reported fit problems with many types of PPE, including gloves,
harnesses, safety vests, work boots and outerwear. The common observation was
that the equipment was too large and required adjustments and modifications by
the worker. Any adjustment or modification will seriously compromise the ability of
the PPE to do its job.
Reduced dexterity from oversized gloves, hard hats that fall off, baggy coveralls
catching on equipment and trips and falls because footwear or shoe covers are too
large are some of the safety hazards created by ill-fitting PPE.
Properly fitting PPE can help the wearer to feel more comfortable
at work, but it’s also the law.
For example, as per Part 6 of Manitoba’s Workplace Safety
and Health (WSH) Regulation, legislation does not specify
separate fit requirements for men and women, but it does
specify that all PPE must correctly fit any wearer.
“So, while women’s PPE can offer more variety, if genderneutral
PPE fits you correctly and is what is available, don’t
stress – it will do the job,” Matos said. “Workers should always
wear and use PPE according to manufacturer specifications.
In Manitoba, it is required that workers are trained in the use
and care of both basic and specialized PPE before using it; to
ensure the equipment is in good working order and fits the
She says that the availability of PPE for women has been
somewhat slow to catch on due to two factors.
“Construction has typically been a male-dominated
industry, so there hasn’t been as much promotion of femalespecific
PPE. And as I mentioned earlier, the majority of PPE
is not gender-specific.”
Items like safety glasses and hearing protection would
fall into the category of gender-neutral, wherein men
or women could wear these items almost interchangeably
with little change in fit. However, there are a couple
areas of PPE in which women may require equipment
designed for their bodies – specifically footwear and fall
“I wear a women’s size 7 shoe, which is quite hard to find
in men’s shoe sizes,” Matos said. “It’s important to have a shoe
that actually fits you in terms of ease and comfort, but having
CSA Canadian Standards Association-approved footwear that
is designed for your specific foot will also aid in the prevention of
everything from foot fatigue and to foot, back and joint pain.”
In Manitoba, Part 6.12 of the WSH Regulation states that
a construction worker is responsible for getting their own
protective footwear that is appropriate for the task and that
meets CSA standards.
Fall arrest harnesses are designed differently for men’s and
women’s genitalia to reduce stress on the body if a fall occurs.
In the event of a fall, a worker can have nearly 1,800 pounds
of force exerted on their body – particularly to the groin and
legs – while wearing a harness.
Again, WSH legislation doesn’t require gender-specific
PPE, but Part 14.18 of the WSH Regulation says a full-body
harness must be properly fitted to the worker.
“It is extremely important to make sure the harness
is appropriate for the user – regardless of gender – and
is properly fitted to avoid serious or even fatal injury,”
The harness should be fitted by a professional, rather than
assuming what might be a good fit. Matos says an improper
fit on a fall arrest harness can lead to serious injury or death
in the event of a fall.
“Women, like men, come in all shapes and sizes, and
knowing exactly how the equipment will fit correctly is key.
In many cases, men’s or gender-neutral PPE will work and fit
just fine, but in some instances – safety footwear and fitted
PPE – women-specific PPE can provide more options for different
body types and sizes,” Matos said.
“There are more skilled, competent women entering the
construction industry every day. With the culture of safety
evolving and reaching new heights in Manitoba, companies
will be wanting to ensure their workers are all properly protected
from the hazards they will be exposed to. As a last line
of defense, properly fitting PPE will be the difference between
life and death.”
PILING CANADA 61