The construction industry is predominantly male-oriented, with women comprising just 9 percent of positions as of 2010.
Still, it’s worth noting that this marks a significant rise, with the number of U.S. female construction workers climbing by nearly 82 percent between 1985 and 2007. While the industry has made strides in this regard, our Georgia workers’ compensation lawyers know that the one area that has remained woefully lacking for these workers is safety and health considerations.
Due to the often highly physical nature of the work, things like proper-fitting equipment and adequate sanitation facilities are critical to ensuring a safe working environment. However, for female construction workers, these areas specifically are often sorely neglected, leaving them at higher risk for injury and illness.
The U.S. Occupational Health & Safety Administration, along with the National Association of Women in Construction, are working to change that by teaming up in a two-year partnership aimed specifically at reducing workplace hazards for female construction workers.
Even though female construction workers face the same hazards as male construction workers, their risks may be amplified by the fact that the various protections often overlook their unique physical needs.
Over the course of the next 24 months, the two agencies say they are committed to developing training programs, fact sheets and outreach resources that outline common issues regarding musculoskeletal hazards, sanitation shortfalls and personal protective equipment fittings – all specific to female construction workers.
It’s estimated that in all, there are about 800,000 women in the U.S. currently working in the construction industry. About 200,000 of those were employed in production occupations, which would include fields jobs like laborers, plumbers and electricians.
Many times, women working in non-traditional jobs, like the construction trades, have run across issues with ill-fitting personal protective gear and clothing. More than a simple annoyance, this could in fact compromise a worker’s personal safety on the job. Employers are required to provide all workers with personal protection based on gender-specific body measurements. It’s common sense that gloves, helmets, body suits and boots that fit the average man are not likely to properly fit the average woman. Equipment that is loose isn’t going to be effective in protecting the worker the way it was intended.
For example, some female construction workers dealing with gloves provided only in extra-large sizes reported feeling awkward and clumsy. Sometimes, the female workers chose not to wear them at all, as it seemed easier. They reported a higher number of accidents resulting in fingers being lacerated, broken and sometimes even severed.
Another work hazard identified for female construction workers was a lack of appropriate sanitation facilities. While it can be a challenge for an employer to provide on-site facilities for both genders, it truly is preferable. While many employers can get away with offering uni-sex facilities, the problem is they are over-used and ill-maintained. The result is that female workers tend to avoid both drinking water and using the facilities as much as possible. This results in multiple problems.
For one, a worker who isn’t properly hydrated, especially in hotter months, risks a higher potential for heat-related illness. Secondly, a worker who is not using sanitation facilities as often as might be necessary risks possible bladder and kidney infections. Additionally, facilities that aren’t properly maintained put ALL workers at higher risk of disease.
Raising awareness through the OSHA and NAWIC alliance will hopefully serve to mitigate some of these issues moving forward – and perhaps even attract more female workers to the construction trades.
If you or a loved one has been injured on the job, contact J. Franklin Burns, P.C., to speak with an experienced attorney. For a free consultation call 1-404-303-7770 today.
OSHA signs alliance, creates Web page to protect safety and health of female construction workers, Aug. 22, 2013, Press Release, Occupational Safety & Health Administration
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