Q: How did you start working with Irons Brothers?
A: I lucked out and happened to apply for a job as an apprentice carpenter right when they were having some turnover, so it was a perfect time for me to step in. I had always liked woodworking, but I didn't have any experience in the industry, [so this was the start of] my career as a carpenter.
Q: And how has your career progressed since then?
A: It was very hard to get my feet under me that first year, and there was a lot of patience on the part of the coworkers who were training me. It’s a new language. But I actually learned really fast and was surprisingly good at what I do. It was a year before I started project managing, and I'm currently a lead carpenter and project manager.
Q: When did you realize you would need specialized safety equipment?
A: It was when I was taking the OSHA 10 class. It was a class of 20 guys, with the instructor and I being the only women there. The instructor was demonstrating where the fall harness needed to strap—and I kind of looked at her like, “Oh right, over your breasts.” She was like, “I know, that's not going to work for us.” As soon as I stepped into my own safety harness, I realized, “I'm not going to be able to close this chest drop. It’s just not going to work for a woman’s body.”
While women haven’t been a majority in the trades—I don’t fault the industry for not creating [a harness for us]—we’re a growing number and it’s time for them to produce safety gear designed for women. When we try to make [gear for men] work for us, we’re being unsafe.
Q: How did Irons Brothers work with you to make your work safer?
A: I mentioned the safety harness issue to Joseph Irons, who runs Irons Brothers, he really freaked out and said, “No, you need to be safe.” He took initiative and told Paul Lagerstedt from SuperAnchor that one of his female employees didn’t have a harness that fit her. So Paul invited us in for a team training and fit me with a special harness. I didn’t think a custom harness was even possible, and so I’m really grateful to Joseph for taking it to the top echelon and saying, Yeah, we need to fix this. I think that speaks volumes about how seriously Irons Brothers takes safety and how willing SuperAnchor was to participate.
Q: How did you work with SuperAnchor to design your harness?
A: They really took their time and got my measurements honed in order to make a harness that was better proportioned for a woman’s body. Paul had me step into a harness and was like, “Oh, yeah, you need it to be small on the bottom and big on the top. We need to move these chest drops up three fingers so that they're not right over your breasts, but we need to make sure they're not so high that your collarbone will break as soon as you fall…” They really thought about it, and now I have a well-fitting safety harness.
Q: What difference has having the proper safety equipment made?
A: I feel safe up there in a harness that fits my body. It’s also given me a lot of confidence and hope that safety gear designed for women is becoming normalized.
Q: You worked for nearly a year and a half before bringing up the harness issue. Why?
A: I think I simply accepted it as part of my challenge—and I didn’t want to make a stink about it. It’s this idea that I want to be part of the crew, but I don't want to say that I need special things. In reality, it should be completely normal to bring up a need—especially a safety need.
I think back to the woman who taught the OSHA class and her generation just needing to wear gear designed for men. Where I am now, we are making progress, and I want to keep the momentum going.
Q: What message do you want to send regarding keeping women safe in the trades?
A: To the women in the industry, I say: Make sure you have what you need to be safe on the job. And then to the industry, I want to say: Please give us the options. There is a market for this. It’s worth producing and will be a win-win!