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A new look at gender, work and risk

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TUC guide, gender in occupational safety and health, women, risk, work, The TUC has published a guide on gender in occupational safety and health.

Being aware of the issues relating to gender in occupational health and safety ensures unions strive to ensure that workplaces are safer and healthier for everyone, and where the differences between men and women are acknowledged when assessing risk and deciding suitable risk control solutions, there is a greater chance of ensuring that the health, safety and welfare of all workers is protected.

The employment experiences of men and women differ because women and men are still often found in different occupations, or treated differently by employers.

And men and women’s physical, physiological and psychological differences that can determine how risks affect them.

Women are also the ones who give birth and, in most cases, look after children or assume other family caring responsibilities.

And while men still tend to predominate more visibly heavy and dangerous work, such as construction, where there are high levels of injury from one-off events, women still tend to work in areas where work-related illness arises from less visible, long-term exposures to harm.

Even in the same workplace, with the same job title and carrying out the same tasks, men and women can experience different demands, exposures and effects.

And in the past, less attention has been given to the health and safety needs of women as the traditional emphasis of health and safety has been on risk prevention in visibly dangerous work largely carried out by men in sectors such as construction and mining, where inadequate risk control can lead to fatalities.

On the other hand, the historic focus for women – particularly pregnant women – has been on prohibiting certain types of work and exposures, or has been based on an assumption that the kind of work that women do is safer.

Because of this, research and developments in health and safety regulation, policy and risk management have been primarily based on work traditionally done by men, while women’s occupational injuries and illnesses, such as work-related stress, musculoskeletal disorders (MSD) and dermatitis have been largely ignored, under-diagnosed, under-reported and under-compensated.

This means that, even today, occupational health and safety often treats men and women as if they were the same, or works with gender-stereotypes, such as saying women do lighter work or that men are less likely to suffer from work-related stress.

In contrast, a gender-sensitive approach acknowledges and makes visible the differences that exist between male and female workers, identifying their differing risks and proposing control measures so that effective solutions are provided for everyone.

One example is tools and equipment.

Work equipment, tools and personal protective equipment (PPE) have been traditionally designed for the male body size and shape. And the use of work equipment, machinery, worktops and tools designed for men contributes to women’s work accident rates.

Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) are the most common health conditions in the workplace, making up around 41 per cent of the total. Men are more likely to suffer from lower back pain and women are more likely to experience pain in the upper limbs or shoulders and neck.

Almost 60 per cent of the almost 500,000 people suffering from stress at any one time are women.

This is not because men are necessarily less prone to suffer from a stress-related illness, it is more likely to be because women work in professions that have a higher risk of stress and burn-out, such as health and social care, social work and education.

Research has also found that women’s stress levels are more likely to remain high after work, particularly if they have children at home.

And women are at particular risk of violence, harassment and bullying both in and outside the workplace.

Although men tend to be at greater risk of direct physical assault because they are more likely to be found in jobs such as security and the prison service, women are also found in many of the occupations with a high-risk of violence and threats of violence, working in contact with the public in banks, bookmakers, shops and in solitary settings, particularly as teachers, social workers and health-care workers.

Women are also more likely than men to experience sexual harassment at work.

Women tend to work in lower paid and low status jobs where bullying and harassment are more common; while men predominate in better-paid, higher status jobs and supervisory positions.

To read ‘A TUC guide on gender in occupational safety and health‘ and to find out how unions can help with these issues, click here.

  1. Tracie says:

    Women are a SEX not a gender.

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