Work Hazards For Women In Construction

Woman as engineer

Work Hazards For Women In Construction

The number of women joining the construction labor force is on the rise, and so are the work hazards they face. According to an article published by The New York Times this March, the number of women in construction occupations has increased at least 31 percent in the last decade. There are already an estimated 800,000 women employed in the construction industry and the National Association of Women in Construction believes the trend is holding steady.

 

Construction is an industry that has been primarily dominated by men for centuries. Because of this factor, most worksites, policies, and even equipment have been designed specifically for men in mind. When employers neglect to notice these oversights, women workers are put at an elevated risk of injuries and fatalities on the job when their male coworkers are otherwise protected. According to the New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health (NYCOSH), these are the areas employers can improve on to make a safe workplace for all employees:

Personal Protective Equipment

Possibly one of the most significant dangers for women on the construction site is the use of improper fitting personal protective equipment (PPE). When it comes to PPE, there is no one-size-fits-all approach. Improperly fitting PPE could lead to preventable injuries caused by distractions, restricted movement, or the absence of using the protection due to one or both of these factors.

According to Arbill, these are the most common concerns women have regarding PPE:

  • Boots: Smaller sizes of men’s work boots are not narrow enough to provide a snug fit to avoid slip, trip, and fall accidents or irritation such as blistering.
  • Eyewear: Eye protection that is too large for a woman’s face can leave gaps allowing eye hazards to get through or feel too bulky on the face, allowing the risk for distractions on the job and restricted vision.
  • Hand Protection: Gloves that are too large make it harder for women to pick up or hold onto items necessary to complete their job safely and effectively. Even smaller sizes of male gloves can be too loose, particularly regarding the palm circumference.
  • Safety Harnesses: When safety harnesses are used on the job, these devices are often unable to tighten secure enough to accommodate a women’s smaller frames. Improper harness placement can hinder the worker’s movements and their ability to walk safely.
  • Head Safety: Helmets and other head safety gear must be able to fit securely on a woman’s head without obstructing her vision or causing too much of a distraction concerning dangerous tasks. Manufactures recommend women to use hard hats with chin straps which most provided at worksites may not be equipped with.

Employers who purchased PPE should individually fit every employee upon hire to ensure the best possible protection on the job. Simply making adjustments to existing equipment is not enough to provide full protection and can also reduce the effectiveness of the equipment.  Employers should be using companies that provide a wide array of PPE options for men and women to protect all workers on site.

Higher Risk Positions

It’s not uncommon for women in construction to be given tasks that lack skill and responsibility. But these tasks are far from being safe and often pose the highest rate of fatalities. A study conducted by the Chicago Women in Trades (CWIT) and the NYCOSH found transportation incidents on the job to be the number one cause of death for women in construction. These accidents included being struck by a car, collisions, and vehicle overturns. This trend was easily explained when looking at the high number of women in construction who are flaggers- a position with a high death rate. The study showed employees who were road flaggers made up one-third of construction fatalities for women compared to only three percent of deaths for male construction workers.

Inadequate Job Training

The CWIT and NYCOSH study found that falls are another leading cause of work fatalities for women in construction. These accidents can easily occur when someone is not adequately trained or familiar with the worksite around them. Women in construction are the minority, and often there is only one per worksite. Because mentoring in construction jobs is typically the responsibility of coworkers, the NYCOSH reports that women who feel isolated may not be getting the same mentoring opportunities from their colleagues as new male employees would. In these cases, women construction workers are put at serious risk of occupational injuries without the safety knowledge of how to perform their jobs adequately and what common hazards they should be avoiding.

Lack of Injury Data

One of the most concerning aspects about more women entering the construction industry is the lack of data to help support how to improve their safety overall. The NYCOSH admits there is little data available about injuries to women in construction. One of their theories suggests the reason is that women are given less skilled jobs that are more likely to end in fatalities rather than injuries. Without more information on women’s performance in construction job tasks outside of flagging positions, it will be difficult for safety advocacy groups and organizations to suggest detailed and comprehensive plans on how to make worksites safer for employees of all genders in construction.

Job Insecurity

Being the only woman on a construction site can lead to additional emotional and physical stress. Job insecurity is a significant factor causing a range of anxiety when it comes to women feeling satisfied with their jobs. Some employers are less likely to hire or keep women in employment if there are too many accommodations that need to be made with tools, machines, equipment, or even adding changing and bathroom facilities to meet their needs. Even if a woman enjoys her job in construction, she may feel pressured to leave or unnecessarily forced out by unsupportive coworkers.

Keep Worksites Safe For All Workers

The world of construction is changing every day. Technology and other advancements are opening up the door for more women of all sizes to become actively involved in the construction industry and this means employers have a responsibility to protect all employees on the job equally. For more information on how to improve working conditions for women in the construction, OSHA has some excellent resources to help get you started.

NYC Construction Accident Lawyers

At the law firm of Pazer, Epstein, Jaffe & Fein, we have been fighting for New York City workers in the construction trade for over 50 years. Steelworkers, roofers, construction workers, and electrical workers face some of the most dangerous working conditions of any other jobs in the nation, sustaining catastrophic and permanent injuries when safety procedures are not prioritized.

 

All New York City workers deserve to be kept safe and healthy on the job. If you or a loved one has sustained a serious work-related injury, our knowledgeable team is here to help. Contact us for a free consultation to review your case and your rights to a safe work environment.

 

Sources:

The Associated Press. “More Women Work In Construction That’s Still a Man’s World”. The New York Times,(March 8, 2019).

Risks Facing Women in Construction”.New York Committee For Occupational Safety and Health, (November 8, 2013).  http://nycosh.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/Women-in-Construction-final-11-8-13-2.pdf

Julie Copeland. “5 Things You Need To Know About PPE for Women”.Arbill. https://www.arbill.com/arbill-safety-blog/ppe-for-women

“Women in the Construction Workplace: Providing Equitable Safety and Health Protection”. Occupational Safety and Health Administration.https://www.osha.gov/doc/accsh/haswicformal.html