As more women enter male-dominated fields, the supply of appropriate and necessary safety gear hasn’t always caught up with the changes. This is why last month, an advisory panel on women in the Armed Forces made the request for equipment sized to the female body. According to a March Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Services annual report, women are most likely to suffer from injuries as a result of incorrectly fitting gear.
Recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics also shows that women make up more than 47 percent of the U.S. workforce. According to Bloomberg Law data, 330 union contracts in the last five years included provisions on personal protective equipment, but none covered gender-specific gear.
Rhonda Rogers, director of women’s and human rights wing of the International Association of Machinists, told Bloomberg that management is often willing to provide the correct sized gear for workers. However, United Steelworkers member Katrina Fizgerald told Bloomberg she asked her union to “bargain with their employer” for properly fitting uniforms. After bargaining with the union, the company decided it was too costly to purchase gender-specific uniforms and scrapped the plan.
Female workers in industries like oil and gas, construction, and machining are therefore forced to wear ill-fitting harnesses, hard hats, fall protection, and gloves. Companies that don’t address the issue could risk losing workers, and employers could face liability for not providing proper safety gear.
“That should motivate employers to find a solution,” Emily Martin, National Women’s Law Center, told Bloomberg. “Whether that means an alternative supplier, or saying to the supplier you have a problem and you’re creating a problem for me.”