Today’s workforce has come a long way with regards to improving the conditions for both men and women on the job. Health and safety equipment and services, and even financial compensation has become more equitable over the years. Wage disparity has been a prominent issue over the past few decades, and continues to be addressed as more women fight for equal rights in the workplace. However, trends to improve equality and equal treatment for women have given rise to new risks and hazards for women that they were previously unexposed to.
In today’s world, it is unfair and discriminatory for a business to hire based on sex, and now, more than ever, schools and teachers are pushing to get females more interested in traditionally male-dominated fields like science, maths, and engineering. In order to promote true equality within the workforce, the descriptions of each job must be clearly stated, and then the appropriate candidate is to be selected based upon their knowledge, skills, and abilities to perform the job.
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 attitude, as well as a discipline, some male-dominated industries have developed their learning and safety materials from a male-perspective only. This might cause alienation, insecurity, and even fear among women who are new in these industries. For example, many pieces of safety equipment have been designed specifically for males. In fact, in the construction industry, when developing equipment, and corresponding safety protocols, the average body size is considered to be 6 feet, 250 lbs. Where does this leave the 5 foot 5 inch, 150 lb female? The safety equipment industry is making strides towards developing equipment specifically designed for the female body, but not everyone is aware that it exists, or what the differences are.
In some cases, little documentation on how women should be treated is provided, thus women can easily be victimized in male-dominated industries. Some common areas of risk include sexual harassment, unfair treatment, and even victimization. Since women are slowly carving a path for future women in labour jobs like logging, oil and gas, and other traditionally male industries, they are a minority and have few role-models to look up to in their chosen industries. Being the minority on the job sometimes results in special treatment, or they might be singled out and treated as inferior.
Along with the age old problems of discrimination between the sexes in the workforce, there are some newly emerging trends when considering female worker health and safety in the workplace. European Agency For Safety and Work outlines the new trends in the workplace as follows:
Work intensification from downsizing
Migration - poor work conditions
Jobs in the informal economy
The following is an example of a possible real-life scenario. A woman who has previously worked as an office assistant transitions into a labour job at an oilfield and has to stay in a remote camp. She may experience traumatic stress because of the impact from the environmental changes she endures. Being removed from family, friends and the comforts of home, and being put into a small hotel room or shared accommodation in a camp can have tremendous impacts on a person's psyche and ability to work safely. This stress may also be compounded by longer working hours and poorer living conditions. The camp lifestyle includes reduced autonomy through group kitchens, shared laundry and showers, and noisy living conditions, which can create intense stress on women without prior experience of such environments. This demonstrates the concept of worker migration that is often swept under the rug because it is one of the necessary conditions of the job. Having women in camps may be a step in the direction of equality between the sexes, but it should be noted that some women may require a longer adjustment period when starting a new job.
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 has greater effects on rising stress levels, as well as increased potential for nervous breakdown or burnout when comparing the risk levels of men compared to women.
It is clear that the once traditionally male-dominated industries are becoming less-so as women make their way into new working roles. Slowly, but surely, the policies and procedures are being changed to accommodate for the female worker, and, eventually, women in the workforce will become the norm. Some things to remember are, whether you are a man or woman, to pace yourself, and to always be safe - on and off the job. It is important to respect and acknowledge the differences between the sexes, promote a safe work culture, and focus on tasks that you excel at. Male or female, don’t be afraid to ask for help if you are unsure or in a sticky situation. Working as a team solves problems, and like any job, sometimes you might not enjoy certain aspects of it. If you take a step back, draw in some deep breaths and take a safety moment, you can approach your task safely and diligently to complete it properly.