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Advocacy for Women's Fit & PPE (2): CSA Z96 Public Review

Updated: Sep 22, 2021

After my last blog, Part 1 of this series, much has happened.

I was notified as soon as the revisions of the CSA Z96-15 High Visibility Safety Attire (HVSA) Standards came up for public review. I couldn't wait to dig in and see what impact, if any, my talk with the committe had had.

I didn't feel like I alone was (good, impactful, knowledgable, credible) enough to review new standards, I took the freshly revised standards to my July 2021 monthly Happy Hour Talk with my community of Women in the Occupational Health and Safety Society (WOHSS). The response was validating - this is not right, something needs to be done to change the way they are thinking about women's body proportions.

It was clear when comparing the new wording of the standards to the old, that there were words that had been shuffled around, but the resounding message was sadly business as usual:

From the proposed new CSA Z96 standards Section 4.2.1 Ergonomics:

"appropriate means" of designing and constructing HVSA that is expected to remain in place on the body of the (female) wearer for the foreseeable period of use (ie. overhead welding & electrical work, work involving 3-point climbing...etc.), means providing "adequate size ranges". In other words, providing size ranges of gear designed using male-bodied grading standards is still OK.

Every woman at my WOHSS monthly session knew unequivocally why this is NOT ok: a male-graded garment follows a much different standard curve than a female graded garment, especially when we're talking about things like safety coveralls, steel toed boots, gloves, even respirators.

Eg. using coveralls: proportionately, female bodies have much narrower shoulders, shorter arms and legs and, a lower rise. Furthermore, the standard in grading between critical measurement points (eg: bust, waist, hips, thighs, inseam) when moving from a size 30 to a size 52 is NOT the same for women as for men's grading... Just think hip-to-height and shoulder span-to-height ratios for starters.

With my hundreds of hours wearing male-bodies PPE, I can attest to the fact that providing adequate sizes of male-bodied PPE simply is not enough, in fact in my experience design and grading problems represent health and safety issues.

So I gotta 2021, are we really being unreasonable to want the current standard to consider the unique needs of both genders vs a homogenous (ie: currently male) scale and standard?

Next step - I drafted my edits, which came down to the following simple (yet profound) change:

Draft language for the “Note” in CSA Z96-15 Section 4.2.1 Ergonomics, Subsection d)

Note: For this purpose, appropriate means, such as adequate size ranges designed to meet grading standards distinctly for male and female bodies, must be provided to enable HVSA to be adapted to the physique of the user. For greater clarity, HVSA requires that both male and female grading standards be made available to every user.

I was served an unexpected blow when, weeks after submitting this DRAFT language for review to the Canadian Women in Occupational Health and Safety Society, I was informed that they would not support these recommendations to the CSA group. Although their reasons were sound (needing their board to establish a technical expert sub-committee and a solid procedure to decide on which efforts the WOHSS community would support), it felt somewhat less substantial when I submitted these recommendations to the CSA group. Not to mention the personal loss I felt - had I simply been naive in thinking I had found a likeminded, powerfully supportive community, bent on changing the story for women?

But it didn't take me long to bounce back, remembering that this issue has always been bigger than me, bigger than WOHSS, bigger than even the CSA group, and it will persist as long as we keep refusing to address it head on.

I ended up submitting my recommendations to our national standards group on behalf of none other than Helga Wear Inc, and was thrilled to receive an invite to join the newly formed CSA advisory group for Women and PPE.

So what's next?

The adventure never ends, shifting now to creating more connections and reaching more audiences, in the hopes of partnering for meaningful change in trades and active STEM industries. I have great hopes for being a part of the CSA advisory group for women's PPE, I will no doubt meet others like myself and will definitely take every advantage of the privilege.


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