By Robin Skillings
The building and construction industries have seen an increase of women on jobsites. As more hardworking women enter the construction trades, proper personal protective equipment (PPE), specifically women’s footwear, has become vital.
For years, women have struggled to find PPE and workwear designed and built to fit her body frame and structure and therefore had to settle for the men’s version sized down to a smaller size. From head to toe, modern PPE can now be found in women’s sizes, but the range of options, the product design, and quality have been limited. Ill-fitting PPE can lead to a higher risk of on-site accidents and injuries, and at least one contributing factor to these dangerous mishaps can be improper safety footwear.
Today, many different styles of women’s safety footwear are made on a women’s specific last. The last is the form used to define the space inside of the boot and its overall shape. Building the work boot on a women’s specific last means that the boot is designed and built to meet the biomechanic nuances of her foot and ultimately provide a more comfortable, safer option. Some brands have taken their already-extensive research and development even further with real-world testing using feedback and commentary from tradeswomen across various industries.
WOMEN IN THE TRADES
A study from the Institute of Women’s Policy Research reported that the number of women working in construction trades increased by 17.6 percent between 2017 and 2018, raising the total number of women in the trades to over 250,000. According to a recent CNN Business story, many states are putting budgets behind the recruitment and apprentice support for women and minorities within the trades. California, for example, is implementing a $50 billion, 10-year building program to fund road repairs, bridge maintenance, and public transit, by utilizing the funds from a gas tax increase. The plan also includes a $25 million investment to recruit and support more women in the trades. With women becoming a larger segment of today’s construction workforce, it is critical that PPE be created specifically for a woman’s body and her specific needs.
With a shortage of trades workers in America, many companies are recruiting qualified women to fill positions across all areas of the jobsite, and that’s gone a long way to help bridge the gender gap. Construction work and other trades have always been considered predominantly male industries, but as more women carve their place in the gritty construction and contracting landscape, they’re now taking a larger portion of the workforce than they ever have before.
Safety products for the jobsite are adapting to the growing demographic of women in the construction labor force. More companies are offering the right tools for the job simply by making more women-specific PPE.
It is important for women on the construction site to have safety footwear that is made specifically for them and their body structure. The anatomical differences between a man and woman’s foot are inherently different. A woman’s foot is smaller and her bones and tendons are shaped differently. Bone structure, size, width, and shape of men’s and women’s feet create a need for a different ground-up design, not necessarily different styles or even materials. Additionally, the way a woman stands, moves, and walks is different, and this creates a vital need for safety footwear to fit the structural differences between genders.
When women are spending long days on the jobsite, comfort is key, and this often begins with properly-fitted footwear. Women who might have chosen a men’s style work boot usually have to compensate for the poor fit and this affects their performance on the job and potentially puts them at a higher risk for accidents. For example, when women wear men’s boots their foot will often shift inside the shoe, causing more chances of hot spots which can develop blisters. The upper is often built too large to accommodate a woman’s smaller foot shape, making it harder to tighten the laces enough to secure their foot in the shoe. Mens boots are also heavier to lift with each step which only increases the chances of slips, trips, and falls—the No. 1 cause of injury on jobsites.
EVOLUTION OF FOOTWEAR
The modern work boot has evolved. Materials have advanced. Outsoles, uppers, and construction options have also improved over time with research and development around comfort and durability. Styles too have changed as jobs have become more specialized and the worker’s need for fit and function have become a priority.
Today, there are a multitude of different features, styles, fabrics, and technologies in the women’s work boot market that make it easier for her to choose the proper work boot or work shoe for the job. Women no longer have to settle for a bulky work boot, or worse, a flimsy boot with shades of pink. Women’s safety footwear now comes in a variety of silhouettes, from Romeo-style pull-ons to 8-inch lace-ups. Not only is this diversity of offering important to the preference of the wearer, but it makes choosing the right boot or shoe for the job easier.
At a time when numerous skilled trade jobs require a safety toe, we’re also seeing an evolution in the materials used for toe caps that are being integrated into women’s safety footwear. While tradeswomen can still purchase footwear with the traditional steel or aluminum safety toes, more options like composite or carbon-fiber, which is 15 percent lighter than steel toes, are being designed into women’s product lines. The new Chicago waterproof boot is the first KEEN Utility work boot to feature a carbon-fiber safety toe as a part of its Tradeswomen Tested collection. The advantage of a lightweight material isn’t limited to gender, it’s a critical safety component that factors heavily into all-day comfort.
There have also been numerous material and technological innovations in women’s safety footwear to improve jobsite safety. Reflective material is used in safety shoes for workers in low lighting conditions, reflecting active light sources to keep workers visible in dimly lit locations. Heavier duty materials such as Barnyard-Resistant Leather are being designed into the boot’s construction to protect the wearer but also to extend the longevity of the product from harsh chemicals or minerals on the jobsite.
No matter the profession, women work in the same conditions and require the same level of quality and durability as men. Today’s tradeswomen can expect to find a great safety boot or shoe with all the same advanced features and quality of materials included in men’s styles. Proper fitting women’s PPE can make all the difference in the prevention of injury and accidents and the leading brands are continually working to learn and understand how to produce the best footwear to support tradeswomen across all industries.
About the author:
Robin Skillings is the senior global marketing director at KEEN Utility. KEEN Utility, a leading industrial and service footwear brand, successfully exceeds footwear safety standards while combining advanced durability and innovation with the same comfort and unparalleled classic fit offered by KEEN outdoor, lifestyle, and kids footwear. KEEN Utility footwear is grounded in protection with the goal to make boots to fit you better. The whole you. For more, visit keenfootwear.com/work.
Modern Contractor Solutions, December 2020
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