Doing More to Protect Women at Work
Many workplaces and types of equipment are designed for men, not women, and this can lead to injuries.
In her new book, Bent out of Shape: Shame, Solidarity, and Women’s Bodies at Work, occupational health expert Karen Messing looked at three different male-dominated workplaces—municipal jobs (street and park maintenance, etc.), landscaping, and communications technicians.
She found that women suffered more injuries than men due to a number of factors. Many of the injuries related to ladders, which were too large for the women to carry and/or use properly.
Other reasons for the disparity in injury rates included
- equipment and training not being adapted to women,
- women being more likely to report accidents, and
- women being less experienced in the role—inexperienced workers in general have higher injury rates.
Lack of appropriate equipment and training not only leads to injury, but it makes it difficult for women to complete their tasks efficiently.
With huge shortages anticipated for the skilled trades in the coming years, governments, unions, and industry groups are promoting the trades as a viable career option for underrepresented groups, including women. But Messing shows that there are barriers for women that are often overlooked, which may make them think twice about a career in construction.
“For women to stay safe and succeed in nontraditional roles, front-line leaders need to be aware of potential issues and work to create safe, inclusive workplaces for all workers,” says Colin deRaaf, CLAC Training Ontario director. “Workers need to speak up when they see a hazard, and that includes hazards due to ill-adapted equipment and PPE.
“Supervisors and health and safety committee members need to be on the lookout as well, listen to worker concerns, and seek solutions. One of the reasons CLAC developed our new people-centric supervisor training program is to help supervisors address concerns like this.
“Another step that CLAC is taking is to research fall protection harnesses designed for women to ensure that they have the best equipment to work well in their trade and keep them safe.”
Why Working Women Experience More Musculoskeletal Injuries
While men tend to experience more catastrophic injuries, working women experience 50 percent more musculoskeletal injuries than working men. Why? Traditional female-dominated roles, such as in retail, education, and healthcare sectors, all have high rates of circulatory problems from standing, lower back pain from bending/lifting, and repetitive strain injuries such as carpal tunnel.
And even in these female-dominated industries, equipment is often designed for men. For example, Messing found that in the hospitality industry, the push bar on cleaning carts is designed for use by the average European man and is too high for most women. This despite the fact that nine in ten housekeepers are women.
For healthcare workers, certain PPE, such as respirators, are often designed to fit men and are too big on women, leaving them vulnerable to exposure.