Workplace Safety

Women in Construction Gear Up for Safety

Protective gear sized for men puts women at risk for injury in construction and many other trades.
By: | April 13, 2018 • 5 min read

More women may now be working on construction job sites, but many still have a problem getting work clothes to adequately fit them or properly sized safety gear like harnesses and eye protection.


The issue has become such a concern that educating construction companies about it is part of a joint educational effort by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the National Association of Women in Construction.

As part of their five-year alliance to promote safe and healthful working conditions for female construction workers within the industry, the two entities are focusing on specific safety hazards women face if they aren’t outfitted with well-fitting personal protective equipment (PPE).

Across the industry, the problem is now widespread, said Houston-based Scott Lassila, managing consultant and construction risk control thought leader with Aon Global Risk Consulting.

“The paradigm is starting to shift. Years ago, on a 500-person project, you may have had just five to ten women working; but it’s amazing how many women you are seeing now,” Lassila said.

“They are also involved in the crafts — welders, pipefitters, electricians, equipment operators, the whole gamut — and construction companies need to make sure they are getting the right PPE for women working on their crew and [ensuring that] it fits them properly.”

One example of a potential hazard arises when construction companies provide one-size-fits all safety glasses, even though women’s facial features are so much smaller than men’s features, Lassila said.

Some of his construction clients are starting to realize they need to make adjustments, and they are using several different types of safety eye-wear and making those available for the women working with them.

“When employers take the time to ask questions and provide workers with a few options in the selection process, they can bridge this gap and make for better-fitting PPE.” — Geffrey Price, construction industry practice leader, Marsh Risk Consulting

Another problem involves flame-resistant clothing, he said. Historically, women in construction were buying men’s clothing. But the sleeves were longer and the pants didn’t fit correctly.

Many companies also furnish safety vests and harnesses for fall protection to female workers, but the size is a men’s small, which may not be small enough for some women.


“That’s one of the things you’ve really got to be careful of when fitting women with fall protection, because if it doesn’t fit, women can come out of it in the event of a fall and get seriously hurt or even killed,” Lassila said.

Some manufacturers are now making harnesses that are even smaller, like the Miss Miller harness, which can come in double extra small for even the smallest female worker, he said.

While companies typically order boxes of clothing and safety gear in small, medium, large and extra-large sizes, those standard sizes “don’t always fit the bill for female workers,” said Geffrey Price, construction industry practice leader within Marsh Risk Consulting’s workforce strategies group, based in Chicago.

“In the safety world, we refer to this as the one-size-fits-all approach,” Price said. “The one-size-fits-all approach is an ineffective way in providing the safety tools needed to protect our male and more importantly our female workers.”

PPE should fit all workers comfortably and appropriately, he said. For example, if a safety vest is too large, then it is possible that tools and equipment could easily snag it or it can become cumbersome while performing work tasks. If safety glasses aren’t properly fitted, dust, debris or foreign bodies have a better chance of making contact with the eyes.

“When employers take the time to ask questions and provide workers with a few options in the selection process, they can bridge this gap and make for better-fitting PPE,” Price said.

Looking Past Pink

Kristen Long, managing director, construction practice, Gallagher in Chicago, said that out of all her clients, roughly 80 percent have females on the job site.

“Owners want safety gear to fit women, but one of the concerns is that females are uncomfortable raising the issue, because they don’t want to appear to be asking for preferential treatment or to be singled out as females who aren’t happy to work in the field,” Long said.

Female business-owner clients have told Long safety harnesses are the biggest issue. Manufacturers offer pink harnesses to women that are actually men’s small, often displayed with a male mannequin.

Kristen Long, managing director, construction practice, Gallagher

“So the sizing is wrong and the pink makes women stand out on jobsites even more but doesn’t really protect them,” she said. “More important than color is that the harnesses either cross in between the breast plate or go underneath, but either way the harness puts an enormous amount of unnecessary stress on the women’s chests.”

The problem with ill-fitting clothes and safety gear is actually broader than the construction industry, and the construction firms need additional backup to support implementing industry change, Long said.

Utility, industrial, manufacturing and other union workers need safety equipment for climbing, high elevations and dangerous operations, which all require fall protection gear. “We should be able to provide well-fitting and safer equipment to a woman,” she said.

Stacey Gose, founder and CEO of TougHER, based in Corvallis, Oregon, believes her new firm should help alleviate this problem. TougHER was founded in 2015 to fill the marketplace gap in women’s workwear by proving high-quality, affordable workwear made for women — by women.

“I just hit a certain age and had an epiphany — I was mowing my backyard in men’s Carhartt pants that were hot, sweaty and I had to put a belt on to make it fit,” Gose said.

“Then I thought, why do women have to do this? We begrudgingly accept that major brands are just not focused on women as a core demographic. But I was raised that I can’t complain about something unless I do something about it, so I started my own company for women’s workwear.”


The new company currently offers work gloves sized specifically for women using high-grade deerskin leather, and later this month it will offer on its website the Groundbreaker work pants for women, which feature athletic fit, custom stretch fabric, breathable material, water-resistant finish and deep pockets to store tools.

More products for women in construction are in the pipeline to increase their safety and comfort on the job.

“We make products that are well-fitting for all sizes of women and in colors better suited for women who are tired of pink,” she said.

In addition to selling products directly to women on its website, TougHER also works with construction companies who need to outfit their female workers. Part of the marketing effort, Gose said, is reminding companies that appropriately-fitting safety gear for women is a key initiative for OSHA and the alliance it signed with the National Association of Women in Construction. &

Katie Kuehner-Hebert is a freelance writer based in California. She has more than two decades of journalism experience and expertise in financial writing. She can be reached at [email protected]

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

The Profession

For This Pharmaceutical Risk Director, Managing Risk Means Being Part of the Mission to Save Lives

Meet Eric Dobkin, director, insurance and risk management, for Merck & Co. Inc.
By: | September 28, 2018 • 5 min read

R&I: What was your first job?
My first job out of undergrad was as an actuarial trainee at Chubb.I was a math major in school, and I think the options for a math major coming out are either a teacher or an actuary, right? Anyway, I was really happy when the opportunity at Chubb presented itself. Fantastic company. I learned a lot there.

R&I: How did you come to work in risk management?
After I went back to get my MBA, I decided I wanted to work in corporate finance. When I was interviewing, one of the opportunities was with Merck. I really liked their mission, and things worked out. Given my background, they thought a good starting job would be in Merck’s risk management group. I started there, rotated through other areas within Merck finance but ultimately came back to the Insurance & Risk Management group. I guess I’m just one of those people who enjoy this type of work.


R&I: What is risk management doing right?
I think the community is doing a good job of promoting education, sharing ideas and advancing knowledge. Opportunities like this help make us all better business partners. We can take these ideas and translate them into actionable solutions to help our companies.

R&I: What could the risk management community be doing a better job of?
I think we have made good advancements in articulating the value proposition of investing in risk management, but much more can be done. Sometimes there is such a focus on delivering immediate value, such as cost savings, that risk management does not get appropriate attention (until something happens). We need to develop better tools that can reinforce that risk management is value-creating and good for operational efficiency, customers and shareholders.

R&I: What’s been the biggest change in the risk management and insurance industry since you’ve been in it?
I’d actually say there hasn’t been as much change as I would have hoped. I think the industry speaks about innovation more often than it does it. To be fair, at Merck we do have key partners that are innovators, but some in the industry are less enthusiastic to consider new approaches. I think there is a real need to find new and relevant solutions for large, complex risks.

R&I: What emerging commercial risk most concerns you?
Cyber risk. While it’s not emerging anymore, it’s evolving, dynamic and deserves the attention it gets. Merck was an early adopter of risk transfer solutions for cyber risk, and we continue to see insurance as an important component of the overall cyber risk management framework. From my perspective, this risk, more than any other, demands continuous forward-thinking to ensure we evolve solutions.

R&I: What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced in your career?
Sticking with the cyber theme, I’d say navigating through a cyber incident is right up there. In June 2017, Merck experienced a network cyber attack that led to a disruption of its worldwide operations, including manufacturing, research and sales. It was a very challenging environment. And managing the insurance claim that resulted has been extremely complex. But at the same time, I have learned a tremendous amount in terms of how to think about the risk, enterprise resiliency and how to manage through a cyber incident.

R&I: What advice might you give to students or other aspiring risk managers?
Have strong intellectual curiosity. Always be willing to listen and learn. Ask “why?” We deal with a lot of ambiguity in our business, and the more you seek to understand, the better you will be able to apply those learnings toward developing solutions that meet the evolving risk landscape and needs of the business.


R&I: What role does technology play in your company’s approach to risk management?
We’re continuing to look for ways to apply technology. For example, being able to extract and leverage data that resides in our systems to evaluate risk, drive efficiencies and make things like property-value reporting easier. We’re also looking to utilize data visualization tools to help gain insights into our risks.

R&I: What are your goals for the next five to 10 years of your career?
I think, at this time, I would like to continue to learn and grow in the type of work I do and broaden my scope of responsibilities. There are many opportunities to deliver value. I want to continue to focus on becoming a stronger business partner and help enable growth.

R&I: What is your favorite book or movie?
I’d say right now Star Wars is top on my list. It has been magical re-watching and re-living the series I watched as a kid through the eyes of my children.

R&I: What is the riskiest activity you ever engaged in? When I was about 15, I went to a New York Rangers versus Philadelphia Flyers game at the Philadelphia Spectrum. I wore my Rangers jersey. I would not do that again.

Eric Dobkin, director, insurance & risk management, Merck & Co. Inc

R&I: What is it about this work you find most fulfilling or rewarding?
I am passionate about Merck’s mission of saving and improving lives. “Inventing for Life” is Merck’s tagline. It’s funny, but most people don’t associate “inventing” with medicine. But Merck has been inventing medicines and vaccines for many of the world’s most challenging diseases for a long time. It’s amazing to think the products we make can help people fight terrible diseases like cancer. Whatever little bit I can do to help advance that mission is very fulfilling and rewarding.

R&I: What do your friends and family think you do?
Ha! My kids think I make medicine. I guess they think that because I work for Merck. I suppose if even in a small way I can contribute to Merck’s mission of saving and improving lives, I am good with that. &

Katie Dwyer is an associate editor at Risk & Insurance®. She can be reached at [email protected]