Health & Safety of Women at Work

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Each year on March 8, the global community marks International Women’s Day to highlight the challenges women face around the world, reflect on progress and celebrate successes. Since the 1950s, the percentage of women in the U.S. labor force has increased from 34% to 60% today. Women face different health risks at work than men, in part because they tend to hold different types of jobs. NIOSH lists a variety of work-related health issues that affect women more often than men: carpal tunnel syndrome, tendonitis, respiratory diseases, infectious and parasitic diseases, and anxiety and stress disorders.

NIOSH also states that women are more likely than men to do contingent work, part-time, temporary, or contract work. This job insecurity can mean that women are less likely than men to bring up a safety issue or report a work-related injury.

Sometimes a woman’s life stage can also affect her health and safety at work. Pregnant or nursing mothers need to take particular caution around some materials or job tasks. Women are also more likely to serve as the primary caregiver for children or elder family members, increasing exhaustion and stress and exacerbating existing health conditions.

In the workplace, women can suffer sexual harassment or violence more often than men. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics found that in 2014, 19% of women’s workplace fatalities were homicides as opposed to 8% for men. Of these homicides, 32% were committed by a relative or domestic partner, 16% by a coworker, and 12% by a student, patient, or customer. Employers should take these special statistics into account when developing a workplace violence policy.

Back in the 1940s, the iconic image of Rosie the Riveter announced the arrival of women into the wartime workforce. Since that time, women have become more important than ever to the economic strength of the United States. On this International Women’s Day, let’s pledge to refocus on their workplace issues.