Gender occupational safety & health
Gender occupational health and safety (GOSH) is about promoting everybody’s participation and ensuring the best preventive solutions are selected for all!
Health and safety is typically regarded as being gender neutral. However, scratch below the surface and subtle differences emerge. Men and women may equally face risks at work, but there are differences in their exposures to hazards and their health outcomes.
Diversity in health and safety
In general, men suffer more accidents and injuries at work than women, whereas women report more health problems such as upper limb disorders and stress. An unequal focus on reproductive hazards has meant considerable attention to the work hazards affecting new and expectant mothers, with less attention paid to male reproductive hazards and other reproductive health concerns for women such as menstrual problems and menopause.
Women still take on the majority of domestic chores and caring responsibilities, even when employed full time. This adds considerably to the daily work time and puts extra pressure on women workers. We need to acknowledge too that the long and often inflexible working hours men face can jeopardize their life balance whilst also having an impact on the employment and family roles of female partners.
Occupational cancer is more common in men; asthma, allergies and skin disorders are more common in women.
In short, different jobs mean different hazard exposures; and there is evidence that taking a gender-neutral approach to occupational safety and health is contributing to the maintenance of gaps in knowledge and to less effective prevention. A perfect illustration of this is the historical use by respiratory protective equipment (RPE) manufacturers of a standard male mannequin for testing RPE effectiveness. Indeed, men know their diversity makes this silly for them too!
The Health and Safety Executive says women are under-represented in the occupational health safety decision-making process; their views and experience are often marginalised, underestimated or overlooked; and research studies tend to exclude or ignore women (click for HSE gender page). The public health picture is quite different: women tend to open up more about their general health. While men may delay asking for help, as recognised by men’s health charities such as the Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM) which seeks to prevent male suicide (the biggest cause of death in men under 45!).
So understanding the impact of gender (social) and sex (biological) differences on men's and women's occupational health and safety recognises men and women:
- are typically concentrated in certain jobs and therefore face hazards particular to those jobs
- face different risks to their reproductive heath
- and helps reduce inequality in the workplace.
How gender-sensitive is your workplace?
You can find out by using the TUC's GOSH checklist click to download
It will help you review:
- policies where you work
- how representative Prospect is for you and your constituents
- the adequacy of risk assessments
If you wish to know more about gender-sensitive risk assessment, European OSH Agency guidance will help: click here for a factsheet.
In the news: one size doesn't fit all!
Women cite ongoing problems with ill-fitting personal protective equipment (PPE) in a survey of over 3000 women conducted in May 2016 by the Women's Engineering Society (WES), Women in Science and Engineering (WISE), Trades Unions Congress (TUC) and the Institution of Mechanical Engineers in collaboration with Prospect.
While some items of PPE have improved, progress is reported as far too slow.
Prospect advises, defends and supports people at work. We also:
- negotiate for improved working conditions
- campaign for better standards
- influence government and corporate policy
- seek to work collaboratively with others: charities, professional bodies and allied unions.
Find out the membership rate that applies to you and join on-line by clicking here.