Canadian Occupational Safety

November/December 2020

Canadian Occupational Safety (COS) magazine is the premier workplace health and safety publication in Canada. We cover a wide range of topics ranging from office to heavy industry, and from general safety management to specific workplace hazards.

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Page 16 of 31 17 for Men, author and feminist advocate Caroline Criado Perez says data exists that proves women may have smaller hands than men. She writes: "There is plenty of data showing that women have, on average, smaller hands than men, and yet we continue to design equipment around the average male hand as if one-size-fits-men is the same size as one-size-fits-all. This one-size- fits-men approach to supposedly gender-neutral products is disadvantaging women." The examples are broadly about pianists and tech objects such as smartphones or tablets, but one could potentially apply this to PPE — notably gloves in this case. And this is just one small example of gender bias in design. Whether you agree with Criado Perez or not, sexism and gender biases could be a potential explanation behind why protective clothing for women continues to be ill-fitting, and this is certainly an uncomfortable idea with which to wrestle. Brophy says that lack of properly fitting protective clothing could be because of the patriarchal structure of our society and the level of power men have to wield their influence in the decision-making process in the workplace and within society as a whole. Speaking specifically about the health-care sector, Brophy says, "You can't disconnect the violence in health care, which is an epidemic, to the disconnect between the violence against women in society, which is an epidemic. It's really connected how both those things happen. Why is it that women … are most likely to be victimized both in the work environment and in society? And why can't they get proper levels of protection? Why would their level of protection be lesser?" More innocently, the dearth of properly fitting clothing for female workers could simply be employers and manufacturers trying to catch up to a rapidly-evolving workplace, one in which female workers are increasingly entering less "traditional" work environments. In any case, be it a conscious or unconscious bias, women need to be afforded access to properly fitting protective clothing. Where do we go from here? Women in both male-dominated and, surprisingly, female-dominated professions seem to be facing this issue. With the current pandemic reshaping every aspect of our work lives, we could see a push in a positive direction as COVID-19 has brought to light the lack of adequate PPE in the health-care sector – and in many other sectors. Indeed, as we have seen earlier, there is an increasing market for female protective clothing — but the supply needs to match the demand. The OWD and IAPA report on PPE for women concludes with a list of how women who wear PPE can be more effective. One recommendation was to be vocal about one's needs and increase participation in decision- making such as joint health and safety committees. But the report doesn't place the onus entirely on women to act, and enjoins governments, manufacturers, standards agencies, employers, unions, etc. to act and listen to female voices. There are initiatives around the world that are beginning to focus on this issue. For example, in 2016, the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) launched its Gender Responsive Standards Initiative. This initiative aims to provide a path for standards bodies to develop standards and technical regulations that are gender responsive. Ultimately, though, access to properly fitting protective clothing perhaps needs to be refocused as a worker issue rather than a gender issue, because when it comes to the health and safety of each and every worker, there should be no excuses and no exceptions. "Because they're not visible, and because of the nature and stratification of our workforce — which is reinforced by gender — their voices are lacking in power or just simply ignored." Jim Brophy, University of Windsor that there's been any such thing about the N95 being specifically constructed for women in the first instance or accounted for differences in women's faces. And that's in an industry where the vast majority of frontline workers are women." Aside from health care, Brophy says, in other industries that are female dominated such as food production or teaching, what level of protection will be provided to those workers? "Where women predominate and make up a substantial portion of the workforce, their levels of protection will be many times less than what would be comparable in areas where men are a majority," he says. Conversely, in industries that are traditionally male dominated such as construction, Brophy says that women seem to be expected to be exactly like their male counterparts with regards to their protective equipment and clothing needs. Many hazardous or high-risk sectors are male-dominated. Statistic Canada's Labour Force report indicates that, in 2019, there were a total of 182,000 women in the construction sector out of a total workforce of 1.463 million. Conscious or unconscious bias? Ill-fitting protective clothing is dangerous for any worker, so why is this only recently becoming a concern for women? In her 2019 book, Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed

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