Women’s PPE: Safety for Everyone

Jessica Cofer Blog

By Marcy Carpenter
Published in the March 2020 issue of
 Tree Care Industry Magazine

NATS instructors from left, Rebecca Seibel, assistant instructor, Emily Roberts, lead instructor, and Marcy Carpenter, assistant instructor.

Safety is top priority in the arboriculture industry, and to ensure that everyone stays safe, we all need access to gear that fits properly.

When I started working in the industry 15 years ago, I was eager to climb trees and work with crews and gain their respect because of my passion, strong work ethic and the simple fact that I loved doing tree care. As my career has progressed, I am now a trainer with NATS (North American Training Solutions) and carry out the organization’s mission to serve, share and support the women and men who work in the tree care industry.

As a petite woman in the industry, one of the constants over the course of my career has been the topic of PPE and clothing: “What do you wear? What’s your gear? Where do you find it?” These questions don’t have simple answers.

When I started in arboriculture, it was challenging to find smaller sizes. The companies I worked with didn’t have smaller sizes in chaps, pants or even T-shirts available in their equipment rooms. Instead, I wound up wearing clothes that were too big and uncomfortable and that looked unprofessional. When I did find a pair of pants that fit well, I didn’t think about the fact that I wore the same pair every single day for a solid year, simply because I couldn’t get another pair.

Not only are oversized clothes uncomfortable to work in and unprofessional in appearance, they can quickly become safety hazards, too. On the ground working a chipper, oversized gear can easily get caught on a branch and drag you into the chipper, which is really scary to think about. If the gear doesn’t fit properly or it’s not comfortable, how likely is it that crews will wear their PPE all the time?

This isn’t just an issue for women, either, but for smaller guys, too.

Within the past decade, we’ve seen smaller helmets, safety glasses and boots hit the market to fit smaller bodies. Only recently have we started seeing women-specific chain-saw-protection pants in the marketplace; Clogger is one of the manufacturers that introduced a women-specific chain-saw pant to help fill the void.

Another company that is making an investment and strides is women’s clothing is Arborwear. They have an amazing group of women within the company’s R&D department that get it, and, as a result, they carry a good line in their catalog. Each year, Arborwear introduces a new piece of clothing or an improvement to an existing piece that is not only comfortable but functional in the field.

Clogger and Arborwear have made an effort, but the need for smaller sizes remains. I challenge other manufacturers to follow suit and make more sizes available to fit all arboriculture professionals, from extra-small to extra-large, not only in clothing for everyday tasks but in PPE as well.

One area that needs attention is Class 2 high-vis gear. It is my understanding that a hurdle in trying to make smaller sizes is that there is not enough fabric, or surface area, for the required reflective taping. The catch-22 here is that high-vis is a DOT and OSHA requirement in certain situations. With more women entering arboriculture who need to adhere to these requirements, a solution needs to be found.

In the end, we’re all just trying to be safe and comfortable doing what we love and are passionate about. We want to focus on our work and get home safely to our families at the end of the day.

Marcy Carpenter, who is 5-feet, 5-inches tall and a fighting weight of 125 pounds, has 15 years of experience in the arboriculture industry. She is an assistant instructor with North American Training Solutions, a 12-year TCIA Associate Member company and PACT Crown partner based in Douglas, Massachusetts. She lives in Massachusetts with her husband and daughter.