Safety is important for every person on a construction jobsite, but women face unique safety challenges that shouldn’t be ignored. Make sure your safety policy works for every member of the team — learn about unique issues women face and continue making safety a priority.
Personal protective equipment
One of the most common problems women run into is personal protective equipment (PPE) that doesn’t fit. And ill-fitting PPE can be more dangerous than none at all. When you hire a new female employee, she should test out any PPE she’ll be using to make sure properly fitting options are available — and that’s a good rule-of-thumb for any new employee. Hard hats should stay on when bending over, gloves should let workers grip safely, and harnesses should not be too loose or too tight.
Access to sanitary facilities
Another frequent issue is lack of access to proper sanitary facilities. An OSHA study found women sometimes avoid drinking water on the job when facilities are not clean or available, putting them at higher risk for bladder infections. Unsanitary or unsafe facilities are a hazard to everyone on-site, so ensure they meet OSHA’s sanitation standard. The area should be well-lit and offer some privacy. The study cites several examples of why failure to provide adequate sanitary facilities can be considered discriminatory, another good reason to assess your facilities. And following this rule, just like providing proper PPE, benefits everyone on the jobsite.
Sexual and gender-based harassment is a women’s safety issue that’s hard to discuss and hard to combat. In male-dominated industries like construction, women are not always accepted, and that can mean they are ostracized and even improperly trained. Women in the industry often describe having to develop a “thick skin” to get over sexist workplace culture. Nearly nine in ten women construction workers experience sexual harassment on the job, and they’re expected to endure it in order to prove themselves — it’s high time the culture of gendered harassment comes to an end. Promote a culture of a zero-tolerance of sexual harassment and support any employees that have experienced it at work.
In 2013, OSHA partnered with the National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC) to commit to identifying and solving women’s safety issues in construction. The organizations recently renewed their partnership for another five years, continuing their commitment to help employers welcome female employees and address their needs. If you’re not sure where to start when it comes to women’s safety, start with OSHA and NAWIC resources.
At this point in time, the construction industry needs jobs filled — and fast. And women are a key demographic whose representation is lacking, meaning it’s the perfect time to fill that demographic. Do your part by upholding safety standards that disproportionately affect women, make an effort to hire qualified women, and keep everyone safe and comfortable at work.