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woman construction worker
January 25, 2023

From Hardhats to Boots: PPE Is Keeping Women from the Trades

Leanne Hughf found her fit in construction, but nothing in construction fit her.

Her high-visibility vest hung off her shoulders. Empty nubs of fabric sat at the fingertips of oversized gloves. When she bought special no-grip shoes for paving asphalt, the smallest size didn’t fit her even when she wore two pairs of socks. “It’s like wearing clown shoes,” Hughf said.

British Columbia’s construction industry and the provincial government have spent years attempting to encourage more women to work in the sector, both as a push for equity and to fill a growing need for those skilled workers.

But virtually all of the personal protective equipment that keeps those workers safe is designed for men, something tradeswomen like Hughf say is both a safety risk and an example of the barriers women face in those male-dominated professions.

“All you want to do is do your job,” said Hughf, a heavy equipment operator who now works as a business representative for the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 115. “But if you don’t have the proper tools to do your job, why would you want to continue doing it?”

A November report by the Canadian Standards Association found 92 per cent of about 500 women construction workers surveyed reported one or more problems with personal protective equipment.

Across the 3,000 women in various professions the CSA polled, only six per cent regularly wore PPE that was actually designed for women.

It’s not just a matter of comfort. Hughf has seen workers with baggy vests get dragged down a highway when a piece of fabric is snagged by a moving car. She’s had the tips of gloves caught in manhole lids and seen tradeswomen fumble with baggy coveralls while climbing ladders.

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