Women account for only 10 percent of construction workers, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. But that includes administrative and office workers; the ratio of women actually in the field is significantly less — in some disciplines, as low as 3.4 percent. Other trades have a similar gender imbalance. Women are:
- 5.7 percent of tool and die makers
- 1.3 percent of stationary engineers and boiler operators
- 6.4 percent of machinists
One result of being such a significant minority in industrial careers is that women can’t access work clothing or personal protective equipment (PPE) designed to fit them. More than an inconvenience, ill-fitting clothing and PPE is a work-related hazard that can lead to construction accidents and injuries on the job. One woman in Texas has even launched a business that develops high-performance workwear for women.
But while women face more significant obstacles than men in this area, work clothing and PPE that fits poorly or is not maintained is a problem for both genders in construction, energy, manufacturing and related fields.
What If Clothing Is Too Big or Too Small?
Gloves that are too large can come off in the course of activity, exposing fingers and hands to danger. Boots that are too large invite falls. Women are especially prone to those problems because clothing is often designed for men, who are typically larger in addition to having a different body type. Shirts not geared toward a female shape can have loose sleeves or billow out at the torso; both of these situations can lead to the fabric entangling with equipment.
On the other hand, compensating for poor fit by wearing clothing too small also creates problems. A shirt that comes untucked can expose bare skin to elements and chemical agents. Discomfort due to tight clothing hampers performance and can increase the risk of an accident. Boots that are too small can cause painful blisters and other foot problems.
And when clothing doesn’t fit well, workers may be tempted to wear clothing that isn’t applicable for the safety standards of their job. For example, a worker might wear more comfortable boots that don’t have steel-reinforced toes or puncture-resistant soles. This opens up an entirely new set of risks and liabilities.
Poorly Maintained Clothing and PPE
Clothing size is not the only PPE-related risk. The International Association of Drilling Contractors outlines a series of hazards related to poorly maintained clothing and PPE:
- Dirty or oil-soaked work clothing can cause rashes and other skin problems.
- Missing buttons can lead to loose cuffs or collars which are more easily caught in machinery.
- Rips or tears in work clothing present a similar hazard.
- Cuffing work pants that are too long is also an issue. The cuffs can catch on equipment and lead to falls.
- Loose belts and unclipped ties also increase risk, as they can be caught in machinery or on any protruding bar or hook.
What Are Your Rights for PPE and Clothing?
If your employer does not provide adequate and properly fitting PPE, or the training to correctly use it, you are within your rights to ask for it. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) makes clear that each failure to provide PPE, and each failure to properly train employees how to use it, can be considered a separate workplace violation.
PPE includes gloves, coveralls, boots, safety glasses and any other equipment “worn to minimize exposure to a variety of hazards.” While the proper fit of shirts and pants may not specifically meet the definition of PPE, OSHA’s broader mandate “requires that employers protect their employees from workplace hazards that can cause injury.”
If you have concerns that your employer isn’t providing the personal protective equipment or work clothing that allows you to perform your best and avoid unnecessary risks, contact Albany workers compensation lawyer Paul Giannetti by calling (518) 243-8011 or completing a simple online form to request a free consultation.