One of the great things I love about working at Johns Manville is that there truly is a culture of safety. Every meeting, every conference call or in-person meeting always starts with safety. It’s not just safety for the jobsite or company, it also includes safety for employees at home, for their families, a true well-rounded approach to safety in every aspect of our lives.
Before coming to work at Johns Manville, I was a woman on the roof. When I worked on the roof, I had multiple harnesses that I tried. I even had one that I spent nearly $500 on. Because of having hips, I would end up with these huge welts on my legs. I would spend so much time adjusting my harness that I would lose productivity. When safety takes so much time, that’s when people start to not use it and that is when problems and injuries can occur.
There is a massive lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) and safety gear that is designed to fit women properly. Contractors are trying to find equipment but it’s not readily available and when they do find it, it can be cost prohibitive and take weeks to arrive.
As chair of National Women in Roofing, I wanted to draw attention to this issue and make solving this problem a priority. We have about 5 task team members organizing a safety walk for NWIR Day on February 2, 2020 in Dallas. Even we are struggling to find PPE that is designed specifically for women. We have vendors who are willing to donate gear for us to showcase, but it’s designed as a ‘one size fits all’ solution that just doesn’t fit women’s bodies.
Women often must wait several weeks to get a harness that fits. They don’t have gloves that fit because they are wearing men’s gloves. Imagine what kind of injuries can happen by wearing ill-fitting PPE. We talk about how we can address the labor shortage by recruiting women into the industry, but how can we do that if we can’t keep them safe by providing them with properly fitted PPE?
I just read a great article that reported Skanska is making their own PPE for women because it was such a huge problem for them, that they went out and did the R&D to make their own. They said in a press release that, “providing tailor-made PPE for our female workforce is important to ensure their safety and provide an inclusive environment that promotes their wellbeing and success.”
Associated General Contractors of America is teaming up with Autodesk to provide custom-fitting safety harnesses for women, stating that “to help attract and retain more women in the field, jobsites need to recognize and meet the needs of a gender-diverse workforce, including properly sized and comfortable PPE.”
Women are the answer to the future workforce issue; they currently make up 9 percent of the construction industry overall with even fewer represented in roofing. There are plenty of opportunities for women to earn as much as 95 cents on the dollar as their male counterparts (elsewhere women only earn 81 cents on the dollar), but until we can provide them an inclusive and SAFE environment with the proper PPE and safety gear, this won’t become a reality.
Jennifer Stone is the National Women in Roofing 2019 Chair and Pacific, Preferred Accounts Manager, Roofing Systems for Johns Manville. See her full bio here.