A few months ago, the Canadian Standards Association (CSA) invited me to sit on their upcoming committee to revise the High Visibility Safety Attire (HVSA) standard CSA Z96-15.
I was thrilled to have an opportunity to bring my experience as a designer and small supplier to this process. I wished to advocate for a precedent in design for Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) that considers women’s body proportions as distinct from men's, in stead of scaled down.
But before the committee was finalized, I was told that the topic of fit fell outside the scope of the standard’s revisions. Although that was dissapointing, I can see that the notion of fit would be best addressed at a much higher level.
Considering this along with the opportunity costs, and the fact that my experience with fit would no longer be valid, I ended up passing on the opportunity for the committee seat. I knew that there would still be an opportunity to review and weigh in on the new standards when they came up for public review, so I could contribute my experience as a small supplier and manufacturer at a later time.
I was pleasantly surprised a few weeks later, when I was asked to present at the CSA Z96-15 HVSA first committee meeting on why I believe fit should be addressed in their standards. The importance of this topic was clear when, after delivering my presentation, the 3 minutes allocated for questions turned into a 40-minute discussion.
Key Points in the Discussion:
- Safety coveralls might be best considered as their own class of garment, with their own standard, in stead of being lumped together in standards for simple harness style garments (eg; in BC see Stand Out Safely)
- The current HVSA Z96-15, Section 5.7 Ergonomics, and section 10 - Care and Use suggest that inserting a section on Fit is appropriate
- Offering many unisex sizes of safety gear (such as coveralls) doesn't adequately address the challenge of fit, because this approach assumes that women's body proportions are scaled down and not distinct from men's
- The CSA group has submitted a research proposal on gender data: 'Safety V.S. Fit'
- The CSA group has signed the UNECE Declaration on Gender Responsive Standards and Standards Development with the expressed objective "to support more gender-balanced and inclusive standards development processes, and to strengthen the gender-responsiveness of standards themselves, including by conducting gender-based analysis for the development or revision of all standards."
After 40 minutes of discussion, I was asked to leave the meeting so that the committee could further discuss the matter. I heard later on that during the remainder of the meeting, other topics were being adressed with a more gender-sensitive lens.
This was a memorable experience, and I am proud that the CSA group was interested in starting the conversation. I believe there is an opportunity for Canadian standards to set a new tone for gender equity worldwide. There is an ever expanding community of women in trades and in active STEM who are waiting to have this particular man as default paradigm corrected.