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February 14, 2018
OSHA renews alliance to protect women in construction

Women in construction are in the minority by a wide margin, and for that reason face safety and health challenges typically not encountered by men.  OSHA has recognized the disparity and the associated risks. Accordingly, in 2013, the agency formed an alliance with the National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC), which the two parties recently renewed.

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“The five-year pact will target hazards specific to women in construction, including selection of personal protective equipment [PPE], sanitation, and workplace intimidation and violence,” stated OSHA in a December 15, 2017, news release.

2.3 percent production workforce

Currently, women hold only about 9 percent of jobs in U.S. construction, a sharp decline since the 1985–2007 period when the number of women employed in the industry grew by 81 percent. More than 300,000 women workers left the construction industry by 2010, which left about 800,000 women in the sector. According to a 2013 report by the New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health (NYCOSH), of that number, only 163,000 were production workers, such as laborers, electricians, and plumbers (2.3 percent of all construction trades workers); about half held clerical and support jobs; one-third were in management and professional positions, and one-fifth worked in production. Currently, women comprise 47 percent of the overall U.S. workforce.

Workplace culture

The declining number of women in construction has not helped promote solutions to the safety risks faced by women. According to the NYCOSH, women in construction face issues in two main areas:

  • Workplace culture. Women may work in a hostile workplace where they are subject to belittling remarks and physical assaults. Other issues are sexual harassment, isolation, and job insecurity, which commonly discourage any worker from reporting safety issues or harassment to management.
  • Health and safety. Most tools and PPE are made for men of average size and strength. Women may have difficulty properly handling tools that are too large or heavy. PPE such as respirators, fall protection harnesses, safety shoes, gloves, coveralls, hard hats, and safety goggles may also be too large for many women. Health-related concerns include exposure to contaminants that can be injurious to pregnant women and fetuses.

Regulatory awareness and communication

In their agreement, OSHA and the NAWIC commit “to providing NAWIC members and others with information, guidance, and access to training resources that will help them protect the health and safety of workers, and understand the rights of workers and the responsibilities of employers under the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act).” The agreement includes activities in two areas:

  • Rulemaking and enforcement.The parties will share information on OSHA’s national emphasis initiatives; rulemaking; andoccupational safety and health laws, standards, and guidance resources. There will be joint participation in forums and stakeholder meetings “to help forge innovative solutions in the workplace.”
  • Outreach and communication. The parties will share information on the recognition and prevention of workplace hazards (e.g., via print and electronic media, electronic assistance tools, and OSHA and NAWIC websites) with employers and workers in the construction industry. Opportunities for joint participation in speaking events will be pursued. NAWIC chapters will be encouraged to form relationships with OSHA regional and area offices, as well as state plans and on-site consultation projects.

“OSHA’s renewed alliance with NAWIC will continue to promote innovative solutions to safety and health hazards unique to female construction workers,” said Loren Sweatt, deputy assistant secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health.

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