A long-time forester is lamenting the lack of properly fitted industrial wear available for women, something she says can put women’s safety at risk while out in the field.
Catherine Brady, 33, has worked in forestry for the past decade and often works on Vancouver Island. In that time, she’s seen an increase in the number of women entering her field. The challenge, however, is that the availability of industrial and safety wear in women’s sizes and fits hasn’t increased to match that influx.
“This is not just isolated to women in forestry. This extends to women who do access work, electricians who work outside, even flag girls,” said the North Vancouver woman.
A quick online browse of a popular work-wear retailer’s website shows just three categories under women’s industrial wear, while there are 11 categories listed under the men’s section.
“It is not out there at all,” said Brady of properly sized and fitted industrial wear and equipment for women. “In any online search that I’ve done — and I’ve even extended it to American stores and retailers — and it’s the same thing. It’s not just Canada, it’s probably international.”
Brady said it’s not a matter of looking good on the job; it’s that many of the items don’t fit or aren’t offered in women’s sizes, forcing them to purchase items in men’s sizing. Other times, women are forced to hem pants, roll-up sleeves, or even safety-pin vests and jackets to fit.
In forestry, workers are required to wear cork (or caulk) boots, which have metal spikes on the bottom, giving workers a steady grip as they work in the forest. Brady has heard from colleagues and other female foresters who have had to wear multiple pairs of socks in order to fit into men’s cork boots, which often start at a men’s size 8.
As an example, Brady recounted a friend’s experience trying to find the right-sized boots. Brady said her friend drove from Port Hardy to Campbell River to buy new work gear but when she reached the shop, she was told they were no longer carrying cork boots smaller than a men’s 8. When she asked if she could order in a smaller size to try on, Brady says her friend was told the shop would only order them if she planned to actually purchase them.
“To do this type of work, you need those items of clothing, so you have no choice but to pay that money,” she said. “You don’t want to buy cheaper off-the-market stuff. You want good quality that keeps you warm and dry.”
Brady said it’s important to have more options available to women working in trades, to reflect the value women bring to these industries.
“Women working in these trades are not concerned with looking good in their field gear. In fact, it’s quite the opposite,” said Brady. “What we do want are clothes that fit us correctly, work and safety gear designed for us so that we can carry out our jobs efficiently and return home safely.”
Brady has reached out to WorkSafe B.C. to raise her concerns, and has started an online forum atsafetyfits.ca. She’s hoping women in trades can share their own concerns and stories at the site and rally for more options when it comes to women’s safety gear.