US DOL MSHA PPE SubCommittee Meeting June 20, 2006
1100 Wilson Blvd., Arlington, VA
Terri Piasecki, Owner of http://www.CharmandHammer.com Safety Gear for Hard Working Women, Representing National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC). Background includes: 25+ years in the construction industry; 6+ years in construction safety, 10+ years as a member of NAWIC.
• If an employer must supply special equipment for women that is different than men or what they are already buying, this creates another obstacle for women gaining employment, especially in non traditional work such as construction. It is a short sighted view of course, but the fact is that many perceive this as a viable issue.
• Reaching tradeswomen for a survey will be a challenge since they are in the field most of the day and are not sitting behind a desk on a computer. Networking with tradeswomen associations such as NAWIC, Chicago Women in the Trades, NNET, etc. will be necessary to reach these women.
• The population in general has actually gotten larger, individually, since the size charts were established in the early days. Making products smaller to fit women is going to be a challenge.
• Finally, if a survey such as this takes more than five or more years to develop, implement and analyze, manufacturers will have an excuse to wait to revise the sizing options. Will this survey impede the progress already underway?
Many manufacturers are addressing the demand: -Though many manufacturers do not indicate which items are for women due to their perceived political correctness issues.
• AOSafety – the first major manufacturer to launch a line of women’s gear….directly targeting women, albeit “diy” women… but it’s a start!
• N95 disposables with adjustable straps (not stapled) for a better fit, others offer s-m-l sizes.
• Other facepieces (half mask) are offered small-med-large, some are semi universal. (And as we saw of the 3M rep, NIOSH has revised the respirator size chart)
• A Variety of Smaller Safety Glasses whose purpose is to fit smaller faces are readily available by almost every major manufacturer. Other safety glasses are designed with multiple adjusting points…brow bar, nosepiece, lens angle adjustment and temple length adjustment …the purpose is to universalize one piece of equipment…make it so that one style fits a wider variety of faces, small and large.
• Small Hard Hats are available, as are XLarge. (Only one manufacturer makes them) However, the standard size hard hat fits 40 head size increments from 6-1/2 to 8 which does a really good job at fitting most female users. Still some do need the small, but they are VERY few…. Probably not enough to warrant more manufacturers to make them or even distributors to stock them because they must be ordered by the case.
• Most fall protection manufacturers have models available for smaller workers, some recommend the crossover chest styles are women, though they don’t actually say they are for women in the catalogs (again a politically correct issue perceived by manufacturers). And of course, Ms. Miller the only fall protection harness specifically for women, has been available for several years.
• XXS, XS, & Small welding gloves are available for general purpose. Though no knowledge of welding helmets made for smaller heads/faces is available. Kiln gloves are still not available in size small (temp in excess of 1500 degrees F) but some items such as this are physically impossible to produce smaller due to the bulk of material required.
• Variety of sizes of ergonomic equipment (back supports, wrist supports, kneepads, etc). Back Supports are available from a 23” waist.
• A variety of Work Gloves, Police Gloves, Extrication Gloves, Mechanics Gloves, Ergonomic Support Gloves, Womens’ Impact, & Anti Vibe Gloves are all manufactured starting from a hand size of 6” and up. (Women’s sizing starts at 6”~measured around the widest part of the hand excluding the thumb).
• Variety of Earplugs targeting smaller ear canals are now on widely available.
• SCBAs with adjustable frames for different length torsos are manufactured, but the distribution channels make it nearly impossible for women to access. These are needed by several occupations other than firefighters, such as hazard waste remediation.
What is needed?
Footwear – but employers are not required to purchase workboots for employees. There are many manufacturers marketing workboots to women but they are really made on a men’s last (mold). To determine this, look for dual sizing charts in product descriptions. After a woman wears a man’s boot for several years, her foot will not fit into a women’s.
Issue with Safety Vests: ANSI requires a certain amount of square inches of hi viz background material and striping (depending on the ANSI Class), which prevents the manufacture of size small vests with ANSI certifications. Petite employees, so small that the smallest ANSI vest doesn’t fit, should not be placed directing traffic, working around heavy equipment or other areas where ANSI class vests are required. Safety should be put ahead of political correctness. Agencies and employers should be allowed to require minimum size (height/weight) of a worker to be allowed in hi viz required positions. If the smallest safety vest is still grossly oversized, it should be okay to say that the worker is just too small to be in that position without fear of a political correct issue (especially in government employers).
PPE in general…the more user friendly the better, the more universal the better. Not everyone purchasing safety equipment is an employee! Employers are required to train employees how to use equipment… but this is the DIY generation. There are so many people are out there trying to educate themselves about respiratory protection, there needs to be consumer guidelines readily available.
Conclusion – The problem is plagued by many issues ~ but the biggest is distribution.
Not all women in need of PPE are in one locale. Geographically, they are spread across the globe! Which makes it difficult for local supply houses to stock inventory that isn’t going to move for a long time, especially when they are required to purchase by case, bulk or volume quantity. Manufacturers need to relax minimum order requirements for products sized outside of the average range.
The main manufacturers reach local supply houses via wholesale distributors. In most cases, the wholesalers stock volumes of products that move quickly. In general, wholesale distributors– don’t stock slower moving inventory (i.e. out of the ordinary sized gear) especially where a volume requirement is necessary. Most products are available via special order but a waiting period known as lead time, can be as long as 3 or 4 weeks.
Smaller, specialized manufacturers, are actually making ppe for women, but in general, they don’t go through the large wholesale distributors for various reasons. Their products never reach the majority of the local supply houses. Often times women’s sized item (or products for the diverse workforce) are discontinued because it is too difficult to market without a viable supply route.
Every industry has a different supply channel. For example, the scenario described above, applies in general to the MRO and construction industry suppliers. Government, Firefighters, and first responders all have different supply routes that also have obstacles to getting a variety of gear for diverse sizes.
Thank you for the opportunity to participate at this meeting on behalf of the National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC).