Page 73 - OHS, June 2022
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And, fortunately, there’s good news for women safety professionals, where the gender pay gap has narrowed considerably. A 2018 study determined the average woman safety professionals earned 91 percent of a man’s income.2 As a whole, women’s earnings as a percentage of men’s have steadily increased—from 65 percent in 1980 to 82 percent in 20103—and are approaching equity for safety professionals. This trend continues as women climb the ladder, joining leadership ranks in fields historically dominated by men—such as the energy sector, utilities and manufacturing.
As women make strides professionally, the protective apparel they wear is constantly evolving and improving. As recently as ten years ago, it was difficult to find arc-rated and flame resistant (AR/FR) protective apparel—for those who face arc flash or flash fire hazards in their work environments—or EH-rated boots made specifically for women. Now, manufacturers are seeing the potential to meet the needs of this underserved market and are creating products that account for differences in style, body type and fit to meet the needs of all women. Three trends are particularly groundbreaking:
Apparel Choice = Increased Compliance
Twenty years ago, AR/FR uniform programs were the norm, with men and women alike relegated to wearing the same light blue shirt and navy pants every day, day-in and day-out. For the longest time, in these “one size fits all” programs, women were expected to “size down” in men’s products, with no effort made to provide clothing that actually fit women properly. This led to worker dissatisfaction, poor morale and challenges with compliance.
Today, the trend for many companies is moving away from uniform-type programs and towards programs that offer product choice at the individual level. Safety managers create a catalog of products that meet corporate budgetary, image, quality and protective requirements and women (and men) have the option to determine what they want to wear. And, good news—in the past five years, these catalogs increasingly include products designed specifically for women. When women (and men) have real choice in the protective apparel they wear all day every day, from a selection of well-designed items, morale improves immensely. This, in turn, drives increased safety compliance—a boon to any corporate safety program!
Made Specifically for Women
In the past ten years, the AR/FR industry recognized the need to improve—and offer protective apparel made specifically for women. That means clothing that takes into account women’s body types, while maintaining the key safety features critical to protecting women on-the-job.
Specialty AR/FR manufacturers that
are focused exclusively on protective apparel such as Bulwark, National Safety Apparel (NSA), TrueNorth, Lapco and Tyndale led the effort, expanding products for women—designing products from ground up to fit women properly, with an increased focus on cut and comfort, offering products that take women from work-to-weekend successfully.
This, in turn, led brand-name manufacturers such as Ariat, Carhartt, Wrangler and others to enter the market. These popular lifestyle brands modeled their AR/FR work wear lines after the most popular styles in their non-protective work wear lines. This has been the key to bringing women’s work wear to the next level—with products women want to wear. Boot cut, curvy fit and slim cut jeans, denims with stretch and stylish back- pocket designs have all been introduced to the market in the past five years.
Development of specialty apparel such as maternity wear—maternity bibs and pants—came directly from field requests from pregnant women that needed AR/FR protection while on the job. They couldn’t find what they needed and specialty AR/ FR manufacturers rose to the challenge, designing and manufacturing products to fit this niche. AR/FR bras and underwear are available from several suppliers, and FR socks round out the offering as a new addition slated to be introduced shortly.
Several women entrepreneurs personally identified an unmet need through their own difficulties in finding work wear that fit. These women felt so passionate about making products that provided protection with fit and comfort designed specifically for women that they started companies to address the lack of work wear options they faced on the job. Recent market entrants in women’s niche AR/FR brands include Hautework by National Safety Apparel and Dovetail Work Wear—bringing their own unique look and style, with great fit and functional products to women.
Women’s Safety Standards
Several standards have been updated in recent years to take into account the female worker. In 2015, ANSI 107 High Visibility Safety Apparel Standard was updated, changing the amount of background material necessary to meet the standard. Previously, the amount of background material required meant that the smallest
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