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Perfect Fit

ENHANCING WOMEN’S SAFETY IN THE INDUSTRY WHILE PROMOTING CONSTRUCTION AS A CAREER

BY DEBRA WOOD

The construction industry faces a severe shortage of craft workers as well as other team members, and at the same time, leaders recognize that many women, who make up about half of the total workforce, are staying clear of construction opportunities. One concern is improperly fitting safety equipment.

Women employees at Snyder Roofing wearing safety harnesses.
PHOTO COURTESY OF SYNDER ROOFING

“Women on jobsites today, right now, do not have the properly fitting vests, gloves, harnesses, equipment they need to do their jobs and feel safe,” says Allison Scott, director of construction thought leadership at Autodesk Construction Solutions. “There are women on sites who are at risk.”

Recognizing that barrier to entry into the field, Scott and colleagues brainstormed how Autodesk could help rectify the situation and came up with the idea of a competitive grant program to help protect women in construction and entice other women to join them. Autodesk officials brought the idea to AGC of America, which agreed.

“We loved the idea and are thrilled to execute on Autodesk’s vision,” says Brian Turmail, vice president of public affairs & strategic initiatives for AGC.

AGC has long engaged in safety education and preparedness and has recently launched campaigns to increase diversity, including women, in the industry. Its new Culture of Care initiative will educate members about creating welcoming and enduring places to work for all people; a separate women-in-the-workforce program will evaluate workplace processes and policies that may serve as barriers and find ways to address them.

“The harness grant fit in nicely with a broader suite of programs we have in place,” Turmail says.

Autodesk and AGC have teamed up to award grants to 21 member construction firms to provide more than 300 fall-protection safety harnesses designed for women. Falls are a leading contributor to injuries and deaths among construction workers. Everyone working at heights should have a properly fitting harness.

Ill-fitting personal protective equipment can be uncomfortable and fail to prevent and even contribute to serious injury from falls. A harness that is too loose, for example, could catch the worker but seriously injure her neck or shoulder.

“It’s our responsibility as service providers of the industry to support growth in the industry,” Scott says. “By providing these funds, we are rewarding good work and encouraging similar work.”

ABOUT THE GRANTS

AGC drafted the grant application and managed the selection process. Autodesk provided $75,000 in funding and assistance with messaging. Scott expects this partnership with AGC for the grants could lead to additional collaboration in the future.

The applicants provided their safety records and fall prevention safety programs, why they decided to apply, and what they were doing to attract and retain a diverse and inclusive workforce, including bringing women on board.

Twenty-one AGC members, both specialty and general contractors, received grants, including Christman Constructors, a specialty contractor in Lansing, Michigan and a member of AGC of Michigan.

“We care about our people and their safety,” says Anne Brown, director of business development and marketing at Christman, which hires women. “This [grant program] is a way to stand with the AGC and Autodesk.”

Karmyn Valentine, a carpenter at Christman, will receive a harness that fits her properly. She said it will allow her to work more safely and focus more on the job at hand. Valentine said the grant has given her hope that people are now taking her seriously.

“We’re saying get the resources out there, and if there aren’t any, design and produce them and provide them to women in the workforce,” Brown says.

General contractor McCarthy Building Cos. of Dallas also received a grant. Billy Naylor, a regional safety director with McCarthy, a member of multiple AGC chapters, said, in a release, that the company is excited to advance the discussion about harnesses and implement a solution to the problem of ill-fitting personal protective equipment for women.

AGC and Autodesk partnered with MSA of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and 3M of Saint Paul, Minnesota, both members of multiple AGC chapters, to provide proper fitting safety harnesses designed for women. MSA has a flexible harness, which can be adjusted for women, and 3M has a prototype design for a women’s harness. The grantees will receive funds to purchase harnesses for women employees.

Brown would like to see manufacturers design an entire line of protective equipment for women. Currently, such products are few and far between.

All of the grant recipients agreed to participate in training programs to explain the proper use of the harnesses. The companies will have until March 2021 to fulfill the grant requirements, which also include showing proof of purchasing harnesses and efforts to promote the initiative.

AGC will follow up with grantees to determine how the grants have changed their businesses and then help to tell success stories over time.

“We want to see if this worked and how much of a difference it did make,” Turmail says. “We want to show how the investment paid off. Measuring is a big part of the process.”

HELPING WITH RECRUITMENT

Karmyn Valentine wearing a protective harness.
PHOTO COURTESY OF CLAIRE ABENDROTH, MICHIGAN DEPARTMENT OF LABOR AND ECONOMIC OPPORTUNITY

An AGC survey last year found 80 percent of member companies reported difficulty filling hourly craft positions, and 57 percent of firms indicated they are having a hard time filling salaried positions, including project supervisors, estimators and office staff.

“We have a person shortage in the construction industry,” Turmail says. “If we can tap into half of the workforce, we should make a big dent in workforce shortages.”

Women make up less than 9 percent of the construction workforce and less than 3 percent of the craft workers, even though it is a high-paying industry. One barrier for women remains the lack of properly fitting safety equipment. AGC and Autodesk expect that providing the proper safety equipment for women will help attract more women to the industry.

“The workforce shortage is a huge issue,” Brown says.

As the industry grows, members will need women to meet the challenges ahead. That’s why AGC has taken the lead to help its members increase the diversity of their workforces and meet the safety needs of its women employees, such as with the harness grants and its Culture of Care campaign.

“We’re acknowledging women are an untapped resource,” Scott says. “What are root causes that would cause a woman not to be interested in the industry or leave it? Those things include not feeling safe on the jobsite, not feeling comfortable, not having the right equipment or feeling at risk when doing their job.”

Brown agrees, expecting providing the safety resources needed will entice more women to enter the construction field, because it’s an industry that is never boring and pays well.

“There is never a day that doesn’t fly by or a moment you are bored,” Brown says. “I am able to constantly contribute to the success of our company in a wide variety of responsibilities.”

Opportunities to bring female perspectives into the industry will help companies innovate, so they can meet owners’ expectations for better, faster and cheaper deliveries, Brown indicates. “I’m hopeful for the industry, because I am starting to see celebrating creativity and welcoming of young people,” Brown continues. “Our traditional industry, I think, will be turned on its head. We are going to start to lead in innovation.”

GRANT RECIPIENTS
Capital Electric Construction Co., Kansas City, Kansas
Christman Constructors, Lansing, Michigan
Elcon Corp., Everett, Washington
Faith Technologies, Menasha, Wisconsin
Healy Tibbits Builders, Aiea, Hawaii
Hughes General Contractors, North Salt Lake, Utah
Hurckman Mechanical Industries, Green Bay, Wisconsin
McCarthy Building Companies, Dallas
McGough Construction, Roseville, Minnesota
Med-Tex Services, Philadelphia
Mid-Valley Commercial Construction, Salem, Oregon
Newkirk Electric Associates, Muskegon, Michigan
Performance Contracting, Pasadena, Texas
Rosendin Electric, San Jose, California
W.S. Bellows Construction Corp., Houston
Snyder Roofing of Oregon, Tigard, Oregon
Swalling General Contractors, Anchorage, Alaska
Tarlton Corp., St. Louis
Thompson Electric Company, Sioux Falls, South Dakota
Wayne Electric, Houston
Wanzek Construciton, Fargo, North Dakota