At Skanska, my job is to oversee our environmental, health and safety (EHS) program for the northeast region’s building operations. I support a culture where safety always comes first, no matter what. It is what our Care for Life value is all about. We also have another value that serves as a foundation for all that we do, Be Better – Together. A collaborative, inclusive environment based on transparency, fairness, trust and respect is critical to our safety, wellbeing and success. Both Care for Life and Be Better – Together cannot be successful without the other.
To truly live our values, we must keep the specific needs of individuals in mind, and that includes personal protective equipment (PPE) that is designed and sized specifically for our growing female workforce. Though the percentage of women who work in the construction industry is at 9.9 percent, the last decade has shown a steady increase. For example, the percentage of women classified as construction managers has grown from 5.9 percent in 2003 to 7.7 percent in 2018. With construction anticipated to grow by three percent this year and almost two million new jobs expected by 2021, we know that women will help fill these critical roles.
During my career, I have had to order and hand female employees PPE that is designed and manufactured for men. Gloves fit long fingers and large palms; vests are made for taller and wider frames.
This can lead to a variety of concerns, most importantly that of safety. If gloves are too large, an individual’s dexterity is reduced and they cannot properly grasp onto things. Long and baggy vests are more likely to catch or snag on handrails, doors and equipment. We also have to consider how comfortably someone can work in PPE that does not fit or how they feel when seen in a vest that reaches down to their knees.
I spoke with Colony Hardware, our PPE vendor in New York, to overcome this issue. While female PPE is available on the market, it is not widely ordered or used. I wanted to make it available for our entire female workforce, nationally. Colony immediately committed to the plan and within two weeks had sent samples of vests and gloves for us to try out.
Gathering feedback from our female workforce was imperative. We had to ensure that what Skanska provided met their needs exactly. In New York, 25 women from jobsites and our office tried on the vests and gloves and provided feedback. I also took the PPE to our Seattle and Boston offices for my female colleagues to try on and share their thoughts. Additionally, we will gain further feedback from our national EHS leadership team as we continue to improve our PPE standard.
Feedback included changes to the vest, which we marked up, and sent back to Colony. This resulted in two tailor-made vests, which combine what our team members saw as the best designs from multiple options. The manufacturer, Radians, delivered on our vision with a mock-up for one vest in only three days, closely followed by the second option. The new vests are just the beginning and a one-of-a-kind answer to what our women in the field want and need. This includes a large, interior pocket, front pocket for storage of pens and field books and microphone straps. One vest is tapered similar to current vests while the other is not tapered and has an adjustable elastic band that allows the wearer to tighten the vest around the waist. Both vests were adjusted along the length of the back and sides to improve fit.
This week is Skanska’s 15th annual Safety Week. During Safety Week, thousands of jobsites and Skanska employees, alongside our customers, subcontractors, suppliers and business partners, re-energize our commitment to health and safety. Being safe every day on every jobsite crosses competitive boundaries. That is why, in 2014, Skanska partnered with The Construction Industry Safety group and the Incident and Injury Free CEO Forum to create the annual U.S. Industry Safety Week that involves 70 national and global construction firms.
Now we are taking the lead again to make the industry better and safer. Our female workforce across the U.S. has options for appropriate fitting PPE, including tailor-made vests and two types of gloves, one for touchscreens and one for general use. These items are available for every woman in the U.S. construction industry, no matter their location or company.
This important initiative does not end here, though. We aim to have more PPE designed for women available in the future. Skanska is also piloting new construction helmets on many of our projects that, unlike the traditional hard hat, provides added protection to the front, side and rear of a person’s head and has a chin strap to ensure it remains in place in the case of a fall. I am excited about the launch of this initiative, and it has been enjoyable working with my colleagues across the U.S. to develop and redesign PPE that keeps them safe.