How to Improve the Health and Safety of Women in the Workplace
Slowly but surely, the policies and procedures are being changed to welcome female workers.
Today’s workforce has come a long way with regards to improving the conditions for both men and women on the job. That said, women are still struggling for equitable financial compensation in some fields and access to the same range of employment opportunities men enjoy.
Progress has been made, however, and that progress has opened up employment opportunities that come with new risks and hazards that women have not traditionally faced. Our safety systems haven't always been quick to catch up with the change. In this article, we'll look at how your EHS program needs to evolve to accommodate women in your workforce.
Hire Based on Ability
In today’s world, it is unfair and discriminatory for a business to hire based on an individual's sex.
To promote true equality within the workforce, every job description needs to be clearly stated. Then, the appropriate candidate must be selected based on their knowledge, skills, and ability to perform the job. Hiring based on ability means that, sooner or later, all occupations will have both men and women on the payroll (for related reading, check out Workplace Discrimination: The LGBT Workforce).
Take Gender Out of Your Safety Training
There are some hidden implications of hiring based on ability rather than gender, especially when it comes to understanding safety. Since safety is a culture and an attitude as well as a discipline, some male-dominated industries have developed their learning and safety materials from a male perspective only. This can cause alienation, insecurity, and even fear among women who are new in these industries.
Safety training should, for the most part, be gender neutral. The exceptions are so industry- and task-specific that it isn't worth getting into here. A spinning blade doesn't differentiate based on the worker's gender – but it's not hard to spot safety messaging that is written with a male only audience in mind. "Don't put your fingers anywhere you wouldn't put your" – well, you know the rest.
This type of humor arguably had a place early on, back when the audience was entirely men and safety messaging wasn't taken as seriously. But it's time to retire it. Society moves on, and safety messaging needs to be taken seriously. You wouldn't want to go back to using PPE from 1960, so why would you rely on safety messaging that is just as outdated?
Get the Right Safety Equipment and Standards
Many pieces of safety equipment have been and still are designed specifically for men. When developing equipment and corresponding safety protocols for the construction industry, the average body size is considered to be 6 feet and 250 lbs. Where does this leave the 5 foot 5 inch, 150 lb worker? Physical differences between women and men in average height and weight dictate that the smaller worker with the ill-fitting safety equipment is more likely to be a woman.
While the safety equipment industry is making strides towards developing equipment specifically designed for the female body, the larger issue is companies trying to fit every body size into an arbitrary standard. Safety equipment can be purchased to fit the largest and smallest of your employees, but too often the economics of bulk orders convinces companies to aim for the average. This leaves workers on either end without properly fitting protection, nullifying a large part of the safety benefit you're trying to create. Workers with poorly fitting equipment are more likely to take it off and, even when worn, do not get the full protection for which the equipment was designed.
Safety Concerns Specific to Women
In some cases, little documentation on how women should be treated is provided. Ideally there is an existing culture where every team member is given basic respect, but experience has shown that women can easily be victimized in male-dominated industries. Sexual harassment is as common risk along with other types of unfair treatment. Since women are carving a path into industries like logging, oil and gas, and other traditionally male jobs, they are often in a small minority. This means they have few role models to look up to and lack some of the informal supports that other workers enjoy (also see Workplace Bullying: An Act of War Threatening the Health and Safety of Your Employees).
Along with the age old problems of discrimination between the sexes in the workforce, there are some emerging concerns when considering female worker health and safety in the workplace. Research done by the European Agency For Safety and Work also suggests that women spend longer hours working when the unpaid work that they do in roles such as cleaning and looking after children is considered. This increased workload increases the overall stress levels, putting women at an increased risk for nervous breakdown or burnout (learn more in Managing Employee Burnout to Reduce Deadly Accidents). On top of this, women in traditionally male fields are often put under pressure to "prove themselves" and end up with a less balanced workload than their male counterparts in the same role.
Welcoming Women to Your Workforce
Slowly but surely, policies and procedures are being changed to accommodate for the female worker. Eventually, there will be nothing out of the ordinary about women in the workforce across all industries.
There are steps that you can take now to make your workplace more welcoming to women when it comes to safety. These include reviewing your safety messaging with the understanding that your audience is both men and women, acquiring safety equipment that fits a more diverse range of body types, and auditing your safety program and employee training to ensure the topic of sexual harassment and discrimination is explicitly covered with clear expectations for conduct being set.
More from AD Safety Network
- When should you consider using custom molded earplugs?
- At what height do falls become deadly?
- Who should be responsible for rescuing fallen workers?
- What kind of training do loading dock workers need?
- How often should I inspect a loading dock?
- How is wind chill calculated?
- What is the difference between occupational safety and process safety?
- Why should rubber insulating gloves be tested?
- What happens if I tie off at the foot level with a personal SRL?
- Why is testing with a NAIL4PET accredited lab important?
- What kind of face protection do I need when using a chainsaw?
- What is the permissible exposure limit (PEL) for silica?
- What is silica and why is it hazardous?
- What is 'Table 1' and why is it so important?
- Video Q&A - What is a safety policy?
- What kind of fire extinguisher is best for your work site?
- How do I choose the right respirator and mask for working with silica?
- Can I wear fall protection equipment over my rainwear or winter gear?
- When do I need a cage ladder?
- What types of gloves protect your hands from hazardous chemicals?
- How come I still got hurt while wearing flame-resistant clothing?
- What dangers do workers face when working outside in the winter?
- How do I win over my most reluctant employees?
- What kinds of jobs should use disposable safety gloves?
- Is it true that safety shouldn't be a top priority?
- When are employers allowed to conduct drug and alcohol tests on their employees?
- How can I get employees more involved in the risk assessment plan?
- What are some of the indirect costs of workplace accidents?
- How often do fire extinguishers need to be inspected?
- What is the best way to store rubber safety gloves?
- How much voltage protection is needed for safety gloves used in electrical work?
- What is the difference between a safety valve and a release valve?
- When do workers have the right to refuse to work?
- What is the most overlooked item when designing Lockout/Tagout (LOTO) procedures?
- What are some of the misconceptions about heat stress and what should we do to address them?
- What tools should I tether when working at heights?
- What types of gas should I watch out for when working in a confined space?
- How do you create a culture of safety in your workplace?
- What is the difference between industrial safety and industrial hygiene?
- Is it important to get PPE assessments by trained professionals?
- What is a fault tree analysis?
- What kind of respirator cartridge should I use?
- What are the safety benefits of a whistleblower program?
- What type of safety record-keeping and recording should we be doing?
- What makes a hi-vis safety vest ANSI compliant?
- Why is it important to have air sampling done to determine my PELs?
- What is the life expectancy of fall protection equipment?
- What are some basic fall protection rules that each of my workers need to understand?
- How much clearance do I need to safely use a Leading Edge SRL?
- What is the difference between an acute hazard and a chronic hazard?
- What’s the difference between a bump test, a calibration check, and a full calibration?
- Is there any legislation regulating lone worker safety I should know about before hiring?
- What kind of fire extinguisher and accessories should be kept on hand on a factory floor?
- What can companies do to reduce their lost time injury frequency rates?
- Video Q&A - What's your safety network like?
- Video Q&A - What are the 3 levels of safety?
- Video Q&A - How do you treat a near miss?
- Does body weight affect falls differently?
- What ages are most affected by falls?
- Why do workers take risks?
- What Is the Difference Between OHSAS 18001 and 18002?
- What is the difference between lost time injury and medical treatment case?
- What is the difference between occupational health and safety and workplace health and safety?
- What is the difference between occupational health and occupational safety?
- What is the difference between a lost time injury and a disabling injury?