More women are choosing traditionally male-dominated roles. According to the Department of Labour’s Employment equity report of 2016, of the 13.2% of women employed in the mining industry, 11% form part of the operational mining workforce in South Africa. The construction industry employs 10.9% women, many in labour-intensive roles.
Even though these figures are relatively low, before 1994, these industries were almost exclusively made up of men. With more women entering these male-dominated environments, employers have had to rethink various workplace norms such as the introduction of separate male and female changing facilities and offering childcare services.
Given the dangers inherent to these industries, workplace safety is high on their agendas. In addition to conducting regular safety training, a priority area for both industries is ensuring employees are equipped with the appropriate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), which includes items such as safety boots, dust-masks, eye and ear safety gear, gloves and overalls.
A worrying trend is for employees to remove their safety gear if it is uncomfortable or ill-fitting, even if the consequences could be dire. For women, this is an even bigger issue as most apparel and equipment is specifically designed for men.
Fortunately, this has begun to change. Business Unit Head of Innovative PPE Solutions, a subsidiary of Innovative Solutions Group, Anton Zwanepoel, says with more women entering the mining, engineering and construction sectors, as well as other male-dominated industries such as transport and security, work-wear producers have had to extend their ranges to accommodate them.
“Amongst our clients, we have definitely noticed an increase in women working in the more male dominated industries such as construction and security. We also supply workwear to the hotel, food and farming industries, which employ significantly more women.
“Because women are built differently, safety garments and apparatus need to be designed to accommodate these differences. Today, women in mining don’t have to battle with overalls since the two-piece Conti Suit was introduced. Goggles and hard hats are adjustable and there is an entire range of safety boots specifically designed for women,” he says.
He adds that safety officers are responsible for choosing the most appropriate garments for the job at hand. “The Occupational Health and Safety Act states that any organisation that employs more than 20 people needs a safety officer. Larger organisations require a minimum of one safety officer for every 100 employees, depending on industry specific safety requirements.”
“This legislation is closely monitored, which is a good thing. After all, no company wants accidents or fatalities at their sites. We continually assess our workwear to ensure we offer the best possible solution for our clients and, most importantly, the men and women who wear them. We want employees to be able to keep their safely gear on and feel they can work comfortably doing so, protecting themselves and their organisations,” concludes Zwanepoel.