and Health Administration
to the Occupational Safety and Health
Administration (OSHA), June 1999
and Safety of Women in Construction (HASWIC) workgroup,
Occupational Safety and Health Administration
Committee on Construction Safety and Health (ACCSH),
Department of Labor
PROTECTIVE EQUIPMENT AND CLOTHING
AND SAFETY TRAINING
AND ILLNESS DATA AND RESEARCH
numbers of women enter the construction trades, concerns about their
health and safety are growing. In addition to the primary safety
and health hazards faced by all construction workers, there are
safety and health issues specific to female construction workers.
The small percentage of females within the construction trades and
the serious health and safety problems unique to female construction
workers have a circular effect. Safety and health problems in construction
create barriers to women entering and remaining in this field. In
turn, the small numbers of women workers on construction worksites
foster an environment in which these safety and health problems
arise or continue.
Sources of information for this report include a survey of tradeswomen
conducted by CWIT and two research studies by NIOSH. The key findings
and recommendations are
organized into seven categories: Workplace Culture; Sanitary Facilities;
Personal Protective Equipment; Ergonomics; Reproductive Hazards;
Health and Safety Training; and Injury and Illness Data and Research.
Similar concerns surfaced in all three studies. The prevalence of
a hostile workplace, restricted access to sanitary toilets, protective
clothing and equipment in the wrong sizes, and poor on-the-job training-these
were significant issues that adversely impacted women's ability
to perform their jobs safely.
Many of the identified problems are amenable to change through engineering,
behavioral, or administrative intervention. The recommendations
in this report are directed at employers, labor unions, manufacturers,
training programs, supervisors, and workers. Improving the work
conditions for women in the construction trades will not only ensure
their health and safety, it will also serve to attract and retain
women as workers during a critical time of labor shortages in this
is based on the work of the Health and Safety of Women in Construction
(HASWIC) workgroup, a workgroup established by OSHA's Advisory Committee
on Construction Safety & Health (ACCSH). The full ACCSH adopted
the report on March 13, 1997. Staff from the National Institute
for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), Chicago Women in Trades,
and from OSHA provided technical and editorial assistance. ACCSH
recognizes this valuable help and the contributions of the HASWIC
workgroup members and its many public participants.
ACCSH/HASWIC Workgroup Members:
Lauren Sugerman, Chairperson of HASWIC workgroup, Chicago Women
in Trades, Chicago, IL
Bernice Jenkins, P.J. Dick Company, Pittsburgh, PA
Ana Maria Osorio,
California Department of Health Services, Berkeley, CA
Linda Goldenhar, National Institute for Occupational Safety and
Health/Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Cincinnati, OH
Kitty Conlan, Health Education Department, Laborer's Health and
Safety Fund of North America, Washington, DC
Joyce Simonowitz, California/Occupational Safety and Health Administration,
Los Angeles, CA
Jane Walstedt, Women's Bureau/U.S. Department of Labor, Washington,
Amanda Edens, Health Standards, Occupational Safety and Health Administration/US
Department of Labor, Washington, DC
Lyn Penniman, Health Standards, Occupational Safety and Health Administration/US
Department of Labor, Washington, DC
safety and health hazards have a greater impact on female
primary safety and health hazards for the construction worker
are: falls, being struck by/against (falling object, machinery),
caught in/between (trench cave-ins, between vehicle and object),
electrocution, musculoskeletal disorders (lifting, awkward postures,
repetitive motion, hand-tool vibration, flying/falling objects),
and exposure to a variety of chronic health hazards (noise,
silica, asbestos, manmade fibers, lead and other metals, solvents,
hazardous wastes, heat, and extreme cold).1While
these health and safety issues affect both men and women, women
working in construction have additional safety and health concerns,
and some safety and health hazards have a greater impact on
female construction workers. Inadequate physical protection,
a possibly hostile work environment, and their status as a small
fraction of the construction workforce are factors that add
to women's concerns.
industry as a whole is facing a nationwide crisis with respect
to the availability of qualified labor. With the demand for
labor outstripping supply, construction employers need to
expand their recruitment efforts to previously untapped labor
sources, including women. Thus, they need to ensure that the
work environment is "woman friendly."
report will not cover the health and safety concerns of all
construction workers. Rather, it attempts to summarize the
additional concerns of women working in construction, and
the report will propose recommendations to help OSHA, NIOSH,
employers, unions, and workers provide equal safety and health
protection in the construction industry for all construction
workers, regardless of gender.
of women age 16 and older participate in the workforce
nearly 60% of women age 16 and over participate in the workforce.
While women have made some gains in occupations traditionally
occupied by men, construction trades remain overwhelmingly male
dominated. In 1970, when OSHA was enacted, women made up less
than one percent of workers in the construction trades.2
By 1995 that percentage had only grown to 2.3 percent.
percentage of females working in the construction trades and
the serious health and safety problems unique to female construction
workers have a circular effect. Safety and health problems
in construction create barriers to women entering and remaining
in this field. In turn, the small numbers of women workers
on construction worksites foster an environment in which these
problems arise or continue.
little information has been collected on the safety and health
concerns of women construction workers. This report will summarize
findings from three studies that were designed to help identify
and understand the health and safety hazards encountered by
female construction workers. The first study, conducted by
Chicago Women in Trades (CWIT), used mail surveys, phone interviews,
and focus groups to ask 200 Chicago area tradeswomen about
issues affecting their work.3 Although safety and
health were not the primary foci of the study, concerns about
these issues were uncovered in the responses to other questions
asked in the study. The second and third studies were conducted
by NIOSH.4 5
tradeswomen participated in the first NIOSH study through
focus groups, one-on-one interviews, or surveys. Using the
findings from the first study, the second NIOSH study collected
data from 213 tradeswomen during half-hour phone surveys.
The two NIOSH studies focused specifically on health and safety
issues affecting women construction workers.
of these studies, other research findings, and the discussions
of the HASWIC workgroup are highlighted below. The findings
support the importance of creating policies and initiatives
to address and improve the working conditions faced by tradeswomen.
This report provides a starting place for those initiatives.
is divided into seven subject areas where safety and health
issues for women occur:
Protective Equipment and Clothing
and Safety Training
and Illness Data and Research
concludes with recommendations intended to improve health
and safety for women construction workers.
percent of the respondents reported sexual harassment
construction industry has been overwhelmingly male dominated
for years, and on many jobsites women construction workers are
not welcome. Sex discrimination and anti-women attitudes are
still prevalent on worksites, despite the fact that sex discrimination
is illegal.6 Several studies have shown that female
construction workers suffer from gender and sexual harassment,
a factor associated with low job satisfaction as well as psychological
and physiological health symptoms and workplace injuries. NIOSH
found that, in a one year period, 41% of female construction
workers suffered from gender harassment. In the CWIT study,
88% of the respondents reported sexual harassment.
as the only female on a job site or being ostracized by coworkersevokes
both fear of assault and stress. Many tradeswomen report that
they are reluctant to report workplace safety and health problems
lest they be tagged as complainers or whiners, straining further
their workplace relationships and jeopardizing their employment
may get this job because of the government, but you won't
leave it alive.
...We'll take care of
hostile workplace presents safety and health concerns on several
levels, ranging from a lack of training and safety information
to physical assault. Distractions while working can lead to
not taking proper safety precautions, resulting in on-the-job
injuries. The effects of a hostile workplace can be reflected
in acute as well as chronic stress reactions. Indeed, OSHA
has begun to recognize workplace violence as an occupational
safety and health issue.
of how a hostile workplace is an occupational safety and health
issue can be found in a two-part newspaper article on sexual
harassment of women miners at an Eveleth (Minnesota) mine.7
One of the women who experienced severe and unrelenting harassment
at a mine testified that a male coworker said he would throw
"the little bitch" in the concentrator bins, huge
receptacles for mixing iron ore powder. Such an action would
likely cause the victim to suffocate or be crushed under the
weight of the taconite. Some of the female miners testified
that they carried knives to work or kept loaded guns within
easy reach in their cars, because they believed their lives
were in danger.
second NIOSH study, tradeswomen were asked if, in the past
year, they had been mistreated by coworkers and/or supervisors
because they were female. Forty-one percent responded that
they had. The findings also showed that harassment by coworkers
and/or supervisors was an important predictor for symptoms
of increased psychological and physiological distress.
to CWIT's study, tradeswomen find the sexist attitudes (and
accompanying behavior) present on construction sites intolerable
and stress producing. They reported negative behavior ranging
from belittling remarks and constant checking of their work
to threats of physical violence. Fifty-two percent of the
survey respondents reported that men refused to work with
them during their construction careers. One former carpenter
is that there's a mixture of skills you don't have as a woman,
and, at the same time, you're dealing with hostile men. You
could deal with the dangerous work if the men treated you
right, or you could handle the men if the work wasn't so dangerous.
It's the combination that's so hard.
for an apprenticeship with the ironworkers. The men who were
applying formed groups and sent someone from each group to
talk to me. They threatened me. They said, 'You may get this
job because of the government, but you won't leave it alive.
We'll be on a site with you some day, and we'll take care
of that.' At another job, every morning the men came in, punched
the time clock, and then spat on the floor in front of me.
been around a lot of the older journeymen and a few others
who really don't want to see women out there.
tell of threats of physical harm, sabotaged work, and being
placed in dangerous situations by male coworkers and supervisors.
The NIOSH phone survey showed that, in the past year, 10%
of the women reported having their work vandalized, and 10%
had experienced threats of physical violence by coworkers
and/or supervisors. The following quotations from the CWIT
study provide examples:
going down a ladder one day that was, I don't know how many
stories, and he [her foreman] came over there and took the
ladder and started shaking it. If I had fallen I'd be dead,
I was just that high. I said, 'Stop shaking the ladder,' but
he kept shaking it and laughing, saying 'She's scared, she's
they drop things on you, hammers and wrenchesdangerous
things like that, supposedly by accident, from ladders or
scaffolding. I just throw it back and say, 'You dropped this
and I don't want you to have to come back down for it.'
tradeswomen report that their physical strength is often "tested"
by their male coworkers They recount being asked to lift or
carry materials that men would not handle alone. Some women
said they often felt they had to overcompensate in their work
to "prove" themselves to their coworkers and bosses.
Many new male apprentices experience a period of hazing at
first, but for women the poor treatment persists. It is intended
not to "test," but to drive the women away.
of women in the first NIOSH study reported they often felt
that they could not ask for help because that would start
the scenario of "See, I told ya she couldn't do it."
Most were extremely concerned with how asking for help would
be perceived by their coworkers and particularly their foremen.
of times I feel like I've got to do this because I'm a girl,
because if I don't they're going to say, 'See, what'd I tell
ya, she's a girl. She can't lift it.'
[ask for help], I ended [up] getting myself injured. It took
once and one time only. I won't do it again, I won't be too
proud to ask for help.
injure themselves more than the men because they refuse help,
and they are not allowed to ask for help, and it's a much
bigger deal if a woman asks for help.
up almost hurting myself just to try to prove that I can do
the job as well as he. Then it ended up that I got angry,
and really told him. I had had enough ...he was shocked, because
I was in his face, and that was it.
drop things on you, hammers and wrenches...."
construction workers had the second highest rate of sexual
had experienced uninvited sexually suggestive looks, comments,
joking, or gestures from their supervisors
harassment is a serious problem for female construction workers.
According to a 1996 USA Today analysis of US Equal
Employment Opportunity Commission and Bureau of Labor Statistics
data, female construction workers had the second highest rate
of sexual harassment complaints per 100,000 employed women.8
Female miners had the highest rate. Sexual harassment in the
workplace is not only an equal employment opportunity issue
but is also increasingly recognized as a safety and health
harassment violates laws prohibiting sex discrimination in
employment. Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964,
as amended, unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual
favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature
constitutes sexual harassment when:
to such conduct is made either explicitly or implicitly
a term or condition of an individual's employment;
to, or rejection of, such conduct by an individual is used
as the basis for employment decisions affecting such individual;
conduct has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering
with an individual's work performance or creating an intimidating,
hostile, or offensive working environment.
under Affirmative Action Requirements announced by the Office
of Federal Contract Compliance Programs, federal construction
contractors have a responsibility to ensure and maintain a
working environment free of harassment, intimidation, and
coercion at all sites and in all facilities at which the contractors'
employees are assigned to work.9
the problem of sexual harassment is gaining increased attention
in all workplaces and civil rights remedies are more aggressively
pursued, many are beginning to see it not only as an issue
of employment discrimination but as a real workplace safety
and health issue as well. The International Labour Organization,
the Trades Union Council, and the Canadian Labour Congress
have publicly recognized sexual harassment as an important
health and safety issue. There is growing evidence that sexual
harassment, at a minimum, is a stress producer and, in its
more extreme forms, can pose a danger as a result of distraction,
fear, and assault.10
to the NIOSH and CWIT studies, sexual harassment in various
forms is a fact of working life for most tradeswomen. Complaints
range from subtle forms of sexual harassment such as being
stared at, "pinups" of naked and nearly naked women,
and unwanted sexual remarks (including comments on appearance)
to being touched in sexual ways and sexual assault. Women
tell of coworkers spreading vile rumors about them and playing
"pranks," such as putting condoms on their car antennas.
Women also report threats of physical harm, and many prefer
to work in areas with several workers. Unpublished findings
from a survey conducted in 1989 in cooperation with the Massachusetts-based
Women in the Building Trades, showed that 43% of tradeswomen
surveyed had, at some point in their career, experienced uninvited
sexually suggestive looks, comments, joking, or gestures from
their supervisors.11 Seventy-two percent reported
the same from coworkers
second NIOSH study, 34% of the tradeswomen answered "true"
to the question: "In the last year, have coworkers and/or
supervisors made unwanted sexual suggestions about, or references
to, sexual activity?" Also, 16% said that they had experienced
unwanted physical contact, including that of a sexual nature,
from coworkers and/or supervisors during the last year.
CWIT study, tradeswomen reported the following forms of sexual
harassment: 88% had been confronted with pictures of naked
or partially dressed women; 83% experienced unwelcome sexual
remarks; and 57% reported being touched or asked for sex.
The study included the following quotes:
of the pictures they had on their lockers made me sick.
I don't mean Playboy stuff, although I don't like
that either. It was the Penthouse and the Hustler
stuff that made me feel so angry.
was a lot of harassment. One time one man said to me in
front of twelve other men, 'I'd like to eat the lining out
of your stuff.' I ran out of that trailer crying. One man
came out of the trailer and said, 'He's just high, don't
let it bother you.' But it did bother me. The other men
started making lots of remarks after they found I was going
to file a suit. I fell in a mud hole and almost drowned
after that; I wasn't focusing on my work. I got hurt on
my next job because of thatI wasn't focusing.
harassment of female traffic controllers at a road construction
site was the subject of a 1988 Appeals Court decision12
in which the court ruled in favor of the female plaintiffs.
Darla Hall, Patty Baxter, and Jeannette Ticknor were hired
as "flag persons." Immediately after the women started
work, male members of the construction crew began to inflict
verbal sexual abuse on the women, referring to the women with
obscene adjectives. They nicknamed Ms. Ticknor "Herpes"
after she developed a skin reaction due to a sun allergy.
On one occasion, Ms. Baxter returned to her car and found
vulgar anatomical names written in the dust on the sides of
her car. Male crew members repeatedly used crude obscene requests
to ask Ms. Hall if she wanted to have sex, and they requested
that Ms. Hall and Ms. Baxter engage in oral sex with them.
to the verbal abuse, male coworkers subjected Ms. Hall and
Ms. Baxter to offensive, unwelcome physical touching. All
three women also experienced other types of abuse at work.
The women were "mooned;" a crew member exposed himself;
obscene pictures were flashed at the women; and coworkers
urinated in one woman's water bottle and another's gas tank.
example of abuse was also a safety and health hazard. The
women complained when carbon monoxide fumes leaked from the
pilot truck, causing the driver to become drowsy. The mechanic
ignored the women's complaints and, instead, forced the women
to rotate their positions so that no one was in the truck
for more than a short period of time. Eventually the women
quit their jobs.
reported being touched or asked for sex
you have more than one woman working with you, you have a
better chance. You
don't want to
a tradeswoman will find that she is the only woman on a jobsite.
Twenty-two percent of respondents to the CWIT survey had never
worked with another woman. Isolation, when experienced within
a hostile workplace culture, can add to a woman's fear of
harassment and assault. To quote several tradeswomen:
[coworkers] were starting to talk really dirty. ...it was
filthy stuff. Plus they were starting to touch me. I was the
only woman on the job. I was the steward, but I was the only
woman on the job, and we were in a shanty that I never felt
comfortable in with them anyway.
you have more than one woman working with you, you have a
better chance. You don't want to be alone. The stress is incredible.
I had too many illnesses because of that. The more women there
are, the more the climate begins to change. I don't have close
friendships with the other women, but the fact that there
are more women helps.
you go to a job and you see another woman, it's a big relief.
I complained that there was no toilet they transferred me
to another jobsite. They took me away from a really good partner
and good overtime."
work culture described abovecombined with tradeswomen's
more tenuous hold on their jobs than that of the more senior
or more favored male workersdeters women from reporting
unsafe or unhealthy working conditions. Women in the first
NIOSH study reported that they could not bring up the issue
of proper restrooms or worksite safety, because it might threaten
their jobs. But such safety and health issues, nonetheless,
are of major concern to tradeswomen.
hostile environment, where women already feel vulnerable,
calling attention to these problems is not always possible
or productive. One woman explained that, if a new employee
complained about the lack of adequate restroom facilities
for women, "You'd see yourself bye-bye." An electrician
in the CWIT study found:
I complained that there was no toilet they transferred me
to another jobsite. They took me away from a really good
partner and good overtime.
in the following quotations, the women feel that complaining
about safety issues does not win points with other workers.
in the construction trade...can't go out there whining ...or
we can't go out there and complain. We just have to bite
our lip and deal with it if we want to keep our job and
if we want to get along with fellow workers.
are targeted for early layoffs anyway, so you can't be putting
them in positions to get themselves in trouble.
percent of the women interviewed in the second NIOSH study
felt insecure about job promotions and/or advancement in the
of tradeswomen have encountered worksites with dirty toilets
or no toilets Holding urine in the bladder for more than an
hour leads to a higher incidence of urinary tract infections
are certain times of the month when you don't
go to the
to sanitary facilities is frequently a problem on a new construction
site. Temporary facilities are usually unisex, often without
privacy, and generally not very well maintained. Sometimes there
are no sanitary facilities available for women to use. Due to
the lack of facilities, women report that they avoid drinking
water on the job, risking heat stress and other health problems.
Courts have found that the lack of appropriate sanitary facilities
is discriminatory and violates OSHA standards.
facilities can result in disease as well as urinary tract
infection (for those who delay urinating rather than using
such facilities). The availability and cleanliness of restroom
facilities are major concerns for tradeswomen. In CWIT's report,
80% of tradeswomen have encountered worksites with dirty toilets
or no toilets. Respondents to the CWIT survey said that facilities,
when available, were filthy or were some distance from the
site. Thirty-five percent of the women in the second NIOSH
survey answered "false" to the statement, "There
are clean toilets at most jobsites."
unsanitary toilet facilities were the subject of a 1987 U.S.
Appeals Court decision.13 Eileen Lynch, a female
carpenter apprentice with the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA),
was fired for using the large, clean, fully-equipped restrooms
in the main building of the plant, which was off limits to
construction personnel. She used these restrooms occasionally
after her doctor diagnosed her with a bladder infection. Some
of the men she worked with used them regularly and were not
disciplined. The construction site contained two portable
toilets for women, one at each end of the work area, and 21
other portable toilets not designated by sex, but primarily
used by men.
toilets were dirty, often had no toilet paper or paper that
was soiled, and were not equipped with running water or sanitary
napkins. In addition, those designated for women had no locks
or bolts on the doors and one of them had a hole punched in
the side. To avoid using the toilets, Ms. Lynch began holding
her urine until she left work. Within three days after starting
work she experienced pain and was advised that the practice
she had adopted, as well as using contaminated toilet paper,
frequently caused bladder infections.
literature and recorded evidence indicate that holding urine
in the bladder for more than an hour after experiencing the
urge to urinate leads to a higher incidence of urinary tract
Court ruled that the condition of the toilets limited female
Construction Service Branch employees in a way that adversely
affected their status as employees based solely on their sex.
It held that any employment practice that adversely affects
the health of female employees, while leaving male employees
unaffected, has a significantly discriminatory impact. It
said that the employer created an unacceptable situation in
which Ms. Lynch and other female construction workers were
required to choose between submitting to a discriminatory
health hazard or risking termination for disobeying a company
argued that portable toilets had been approved by the commission
established under the Occupational Safety and Health Act and
that female employees must accept them as part of construction
work. However, the court said that the issue was not the decision
to use portable toilets. It was the failure to furnish adequate
and sanitary facilities to female workers who had been shown
to suffer identifiable health risks from using portable toilets
in the deplorable conditions of those furnished by the TVA
at the construction site.
previously discussed Hall v. Gus Construction Company
sexual harassment case of female flagpersons at a road construction
site, male crew members would also refuse to give the women
a truck to take to town for bathroom breaks. When the women
would relieve themselves in the ditch, male crew members observed
them through surveying equipment. The foreman knew about the
practice but did not discipline anyone. The women miners at
Eveleth mine also testified that they were sometimes denied
CWIT study, a number of women mentioned they would not use
restroom facilities until they found a clean one at lunch
time. A plumber reported,
was so dirty I couldn't make myself use it. I was lucky there
was a restaurant across the street where I could go during
breaks and at lunch, but even that was inconvenient.
NIOSH study participant said,
are certain times of the month when you don't want to go to
the woods or whatever. Yes, this is a big issue.
I used a portable toilet without a hood. They can see your
head. I felt like the whole world was watching. You know they
pee on the seat, so I didn't want to sit down.
women agreed that this problem also extends to male co-workers,
but that the men have accepted this health problem as part
of the work culture. One woman said,
the guys have problems also, but they take it for granted.
They accept the conditions as part of this rough world that
they function in. And also, many times if there is no near
bathroom, they'll just pee....
of water for washing up was also a problem. Women have a more
frequent need for washing, especially during monthly menstrual
cycles. One woman suggested that simply having a bucket of
chlorinated water for hand-rinsing before and after visiting
the porta-john/jane would be helpful.
love to be able to wash my hands before lunch.
fit compromises the protection offered by the garment or equipment
"They gave me a welding leather jacket that was a foot
longer than my hand....
They gave me gloves so humongous, I couldn't even pick anything
women in nontraditional jobs, such as the construction trades,
complain of ill-fitting personal protective clothing (PPC) and
equipment (PPE). Clothing or equipment that is not sized, or
does not fit, properly can compromise personal safety. It also
may not function effectively in the manner for which it was
fit compromises the protection offered by the garment or equipment.
The lack of appropriate PPC and PPE can cause serious safety
and health risks for women, and men of smaller sizes, who
rely on protective clothing and equipment to help them keep
safe. Having inadequate or ill-fitting clothing, boots, gloves,
or safety equipment presents a safety hazard for any worker.
by NIOSH and the U.S. Department of the Army found that most
tools, equipment, and clothing are not designed for a women's
physique.15 16 When asked if they could easily
find protective clothing to fit, 46% of women in the second
NIOSH said "no" with respect to work shoes and 41%
with respect to finding work gloves. One survey of manufacturers
of protective equipment, taken at a National Safety Council
Annual meeting, found that only 14 percent offered ear, head,
and face protection in women's sizes. The highest percentage,
59 percent, were manufacturers who offered foot protection
in women's sizes.
personal protective equipment may be due to unavailability
(i.e., manufacturers don't make or distributors don't stock),
limited availability, or lack of knowledge among employers
and workers about where equipment designed for a woman's body
structure can be obtained. Personal protective equipment intended
for use by women workers should be based upon female anthropometric
(body measurement) data.
gloves must fit properly. Overly large gloves impair the transfer
of sensory information from the hand, resulting in excessive
force being applied. Tight gloves can restrict blood flow.
Hand tools should be designed so that the stress concentrations
can be spread evenly throughout the hand.17
NIOSH review found that few tools, equipment, or clothing
are designed for a woman's physique. A recent study commissioned
for the U.S. Army had similar findings.
in the first NIOSH study were particularly outspoken about
this concern. One of the participants said:
I went through the welding apprenticeship, ...they issued
us welding boots, size 9-1/2, I had to wear two pairs of
socks to wear them. They gave me a welding leather jacket
that was a foot longer than my hand. I had to roll it up.
And they said that they couldn't order anything smaller.
They gave me gloves so humongous, I couldn't even pick anything
woman's story reflects the frustration felt by these women:
to get up in a full suit the other day, and you couldn't
see me! I mean, I don't want these. Just give me my coat,
and I'll put on a couple pairs of coveralls. Sizes...we
need our sizes...women's sizes.
frustration is fear and the real danger of poorly fitting
and ineffective clothes and personal protective equipment.
can be hurt.... If you happen to have a pair of gloves on,
and they're too big, and say you're doing some work, that
glove could get wrapped up in a fan belt or... anything...
with moving parts... you can get hurt... if your clothing
is not fitted right.
need to get in touch with apprenticeship programs, with
contractors, and push if they have women's work boots and
women's gloves for non-traditional trades. The information
is not getting out there.
do not make hand tools for women, and women come
studies have shown that to reduce work-related musculoskeletal
disorders, tools, materials, and equipment should be designed
based in part on ergonomic considerations.18 Tools
and equipment, like clothing, are often designed to be used
by average-sized men.19 As one woman in the NIOSH
do not make hand tools for women, and women come in all
sizes, just like men.
size and tool weight are designed to accommodate the size
and strength of men, yet the average hand length of women
is 0.8 inches shorter than the average man's. Their grip strength
averages two-thirds the power of a man's grip.20
The grips of tools are typically too thick. Tools like pliers
require a wide grasp which puts inappropriate pressure on
the palm, leading to the loss of functional efficiency. In
addition, women do not receive training on how best to use
tools and equipment designed for men.
the epidemiological studies, which provided the strongest
basis for the NIOSH guidelines on lifting, were predominantly
based on male workers. There is a critical need to increase
our knowledge of the "safe limits" for women for
lifting and other motions, such as forward flexion of the
trunk (bending over). This information would be useful for
preventing low back disorders among women working in construction.
Back disorders, the most commonly compensated injury in the
workplace, are particularly problematic in construction.23
size and body build require reconsideration of techniques
for lifting and material handling. Not only do women come
in all sizes and with varying degrees of muscular strength,
their pelvic structure is different and their center of gravity
is lower than men's. This would impact jobs that require standing
at a work station. Lower equipment handles would facilitate
the use of body weight in pushing and pulling tasks. Women's
muscular strength is more equal to men's in their legs. Women
would be on more equal footing with men if the work load could
be transferred downward, with less reliance on the strength
of hands and arms.
on average, women tend to have less upper body strength than
do men, they cannot use all of the techniques men use for
lifting and material handling. Out of necessity, tradeswomen
have to develop ways that make the job possible and safer
for a woman. For example, a plumber from the first NIOSH study
what not to do.... I have a body, I can use it from here [top
of head] down to my feet. I don't have to use my upper body.
They [male workers] have upper body strength where we have
it [strength] from here [top of head] to our toes. The guys
will ... grunt and groan and struggle ... and I'll sit down,
put my feet on one side [of the wrench], and pull on the other....
That's what I consider using my brain instead of my brawn.
tradeswoman concurred, saying,
lift and how to bend I didn't learn this until I ended
up on physical therapy. I think that it's something we really
need to look at, especially for individuals going into non-traditional
work, is the way you lift and bend and move.
are more worksite exposures known to affect male sperm development
than known to produce birth
safety director told me he had a problem with me working at
all since I was pregnant."
is inadequate information on the extent to which female construction
workers are exposed to reproductive hazards in the workplace.
Reproductive hazards are defined as chemical, physical, or biological
agents that can cause either reproductive impairment or adverse
developmental effects on fetuses. Epidemiologic studies involving
reproductive hazards are difficult to perform due to such factors
as small sample sizes, confounding factors, and measurement
a few agents or conditions have been identified as being capable
of producing structural abnormalities or birth defects, with
a fraction of those being common to construction sites (PCBs,
hypothermia, and, for hazardous waste workers, ionizing radiation.)
However, several agents such as lead, solvents, and pesticides
have been recognized to affect sperm development.24
The vast majority of both male and female construction workers
are of reproductive age and, thus, are at risk of potential
harm if exposed to chemicals and conditions which have not
been fully studied with respect to their reproductive hazards
there are more worksite exposures known to affect male sperm
development than known to produce birth defects, some employers
find it easier to resolve potential problems by denying jobs
to women, especially pregnant women. This is in spite of Supreme
Court rulings prohibiting employers from continuing this practice.
While these actions may be well intended, their effect is
needless limitation on work opportunities for women. This
can lead to discriminatory treatment toward tradeswomen and
result in a tradeswoman hiding her pregnancy, possibly endangering
herself and/or her unborn child. It can also result in tradeswomen
suffering economic hardships due to the lack of job opportunities.
in the CWIT study commented:
they'd tell me I couldn't work if they knew I was pregnant,
so I just wore big clothes and said nothing. No one knew,
and I worked through my eighth month.
I got pregnant my company agreed to give me light duty.
But then they laid me off when everybody else was still
working. My union wouldn't help me get another job after
that, even though they were usually pretty good.
I asked for a job in the fabrication shop instead of climbing
a ladder and working the sledge hammer, the safety director
told me he had a problem with me working at all since I
College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine adopted
reproductive hazards management guidelines in April 1994,
encouraging persons responsible for workplace health and safety
to assess their workplaces for potential reproductive hazards
and to implement appropriate responses for managing such hazards.
Appropriate responses include: communication about potential
risks and hazards, temporary reassignment, hazard elimination,
and exposure control.
said that at times they are assigned a task and are not sure
how to do it "[The men] had a lot of little tricks that
made the job easier.
no one ever showed me those tricks." "The boss doesn't
say, 'You'd better go to that safety meeting because I don't
want my workers' comp bill going up.'"
information, and the lack of education and training, about workplace
safety and health greatly concern women workers. The culture
and attitudes of construction workers, supervisors, and companies
about health and safety often condone risk taking and unsafe
work practices, passing "bad" habits from one generation
of workers to the next.
in the studies commented that the attitudes of some journeymen
and other co-workers toward apprentices, particularly female
apprentices, affected (mostly negatively) the amount and kind
of on-the-job training that was provided. Apprentices are
not always provided with information and training on how to
work correctly and safely, and opportunities to learn through
practice may be withheld. Female workers are not always given
sufficient opportunity to learn or test new skills. Due to
the hostility that often accompanies it, women in particular
do not benefit from the informal training common among their
male peers. Tradeswomen also do not benefit from misguided
attempts to protect female workers from difficult assignments.
percent of the women interviewed in the second NIOSH study
answered "strongly agree" or "agree" to
the statement, "Overall, I wish that I had been better
trained before ever working on a construction site."
Thirty-one percent said that at times they are assigned a
task and are not sure how to do it.
the on-the-job skill-based training done in construction is
by observation, rather than by direct instruction. The learning
methods are frequently cited by tradeswomen as inadequate.
a lot of that [health and safety] information doesn't get
to the hands of the people who need to know....
have a lot of ways of doing a job easier. They have shortcuts.
Let me tell you, I used to watch those guys.... I just used
to watch them because they had a lot of little tricks that
made the job easier. But no one ever showed me those tricks.
women think that their male co-workers are more adept at gaining
skills and learning the tricks of the trade, due in part to
the benefits they receive from mentoring, coaching and general
acceptance by their male colleagues. Women are often precluded
from this type of informal training as a result of being less
welcome on a site or because of hostile behavior and attitudes
of male co-workers and supervisors. When their training is
limited to observation and when they lack formal training,
women feel they are at a distinct disadvantage. Women report
that often they are not given the variety of assignments needed
to adequately learn their trade. Instead they are assigned
to routine, unskilled tasks like cleaning and sorting tools.
Rather than progressing to more complex tasks, they do the
same task over and over. For example, a cement finisher in
the CWIT study reported:
really talked much to me on my first day on the construction
site. But at the end of that first day one fellow said,
'I'm not going to train her so she can take my job.'
won't show how they're actually feeling. But they do these
little snotty things, set things up backwards and so on.
I learn how to do things backwards before I learn the right
way. You have to figure it out yourself.
supervisor thinks he's doing well by us [women] by having
us do the easiest jobs, but I'm almost a third year apprentice,
and I should be more advanced. He's one of those overprotective
kind of people.
summed it up by saying,
can't learn safety by chance, you need direction.
of Support for Workplace Training
female workers also expressed the concern that many of their
male co-workers did not seem interested in participating in
on-the-job safety education and training, and that some supervisors
and bosses did not necessarily encourage such training. Related
to this issue was the sense that, in many instances, productivity
comes before safety. Seventy-eight percent of the tradeswomen
in the second NIOSH study reported that significant shortcuts
are taken, which could put a worker's health and safety at
risk. These sentiments are reflected in the following comments
by tradeswomen in the first NIOSH study.
don't want to go to safety meetings. I don't know if it's
a machismo thing or what. They're getting paid. But then
there's always the contractor or boss breathing down your
neck, saying 'how come this [work] wasn't done?' The boss
doesn't say, 'You'd better go to that safety meeting because
I don't want my workers' comp bill going up this year.'
they [workers] are just under pressure. They feel they need
to produce; they need to be quick; they don't want to seem
like too fussy.
OSHA regulations, women often feel that they have to take
things into their own hands, as reflected in the following
should insist the employer take responsibility, but they
often don't. If we, as a very small group, can have some
autonomy to make some changes for ourselves, like to tell
women, 'bring your earplugs, bring your
bring your eye protection'.... [We could] get a start on
also run across attitudes [that], 'It's not gonna happen
to me. I can take a chance here and there and it's not gonna
happen to me.'
also observed that the unsafe habits of the older workers
are picked up by younger workers:
with apprentices and they're the younger ones that are coming
up and they're out there and they're picking up these nasty,
crappy attitudes and stuff from the journeymen that they're
working around, because that's what they see them doing,
and it seems to work fine and, you know, you can't combat
that without ... an attitude change.
tradeswomen, female painters have the most injuries and illnesses
involving days away from work, followed by carpenters and
is a well known fact that employment as a construction worker
may have negative health consequences. The 1980-1989 fatality
rate in the U.S. construction industry was 3.5 times higher
than that for all manufacturing industries.25 Given
the level of risk associated with construction work, it is surprising
that little research has been conducted focusing on the health
and safety concerns and practices of construction workers. In
particular, health research on female construction workers is
accurate data to measure safety and health concerns is the
only way to keep track of problems and progress. While gender-based
safety and health data are collected, they are typically not
reported or analyzed. Although data from the National Traumatic
Occupational Fatalities (NTOF) and Bureau of Labor Statistics
(BLS) all capture gender consistently, gender-specific analyses
are not typically reported, because women comprise only 2%
of non-fatal and 1% of fatal injuries in construction. Analysis
by gender is important to identify where there are significant
gender-based differences in occupational injuries and illness.
While there is little research on the injuries, illnesses,
and fatalities of women in the construction industry, there
is even less on their health and safety concerns.
annual Survey of Occupational Injuries and Illnesses has gathered
data by gender since 1992. In 1994, there were 4,400 non-fatal
occupational injuries and illnesses to women in the construction
industry involving days away from work.26 The data,
however, have not been analyzed in detail to compare injuries
and illnesses of female and male construction workers. Although
we know the number of non-fatal injuries and illnesses involving
days away from work by construction trade and by gender, we
do not know the ratio of injuries and illnesses compared to
the numbers of men and women workers. The BLS captures data
on the nature of the injury or illness, the part of body affected,
the source of injury/illness and the event by gender, but
to date these data have not been analyzed and reported out
by gender. Findings from this gender-specific analysis could
help develop better ways to prevent injury and illness.
BLS data do reveal which construction trade occupations have
the most injuries and illnesses involving days away from work.
Among tradeswomen, female painters have the most (527), followed
by carpenters (410) and electricians (254). Among tradesmen,
carpenters have the most injuries and illnesses (36,675),
followed by male electricians (18,116) and plumbers and pipefitters
(13,283).27 The numbers need to be compared with
employment statistics for the same occupation to know if the
differences between men and women are significant.
construction industry...cannot afford to overlook the genuine
safety and health needs and concerns of female construction
the construction labor force becomes more diversified, the construction
industry as a whole cannot afford to overlook the genuine safety
and health needs and concerns of female construction workers,
apprentices, and job applicants. This document is intended to
call attention to the real contemporary health and safety issues
of women in construction. These issues merit attention to, and
action by, all those who share responsibility in the arena of
construction safety and health.
section of this report provides recommendations that address
each area of concern. Some of the recommendations are directed
to OSHA and other federal agencies. Other recommendations
are designed for various stakeholders to implement. The stakeholders
include employers, labor unions, training programs, manufacturers,
and employees working in the construction industry. These
recommendations will assist the entire industry to improve
the acceptance, training, advancement, and working conditions
for women in the field. The safety and health issues facing
women in the construction trades are in direct proportion
to women's overall participation and equitable treatment in
following recommendations are action steps designed to address
the health and safety concerns of female construction workers
as identified in the report. The workgroup believes that with
education about, and attention to, these issues, OSHA and all
stakeholders can play a role in helping to bring about safe,
healthy, and equitable conditions for all workers.
Recommendations for OSHA and Stakeholders Workplace
should collaborate with the Office of Federal Contract Compliance
Programs to identify problems of sexual harassment in worksites
where they have jurisdiction and take appropriate remedial
action. This could be done through a memorandum of understanding.
should include sexual harassment prevention training in
the Safety and Health Program's proposed standards and guidelines.
should encourage labor unions and employers to include sexual
harassment prevention training in safety and health programs.
all communication materials to ensure that they are gender
neutral and include women. Visual materials (videos, posters,
pictures, etc.) should include examples of female construction
workers to promote an integrated construction workplace.
address the problem of workplace isolation of female construction
workers, employers, apprenticeship programs, and unions
(where responsible) should assign female workers in pairs,
or more when possible, especially those who are relatively
new to the construction trade.
unions, and apprenticeship programs should ensure that their
supervisory personnel, teachers, and representatives have
training and guidelines in ensuring the safety and health
and equitable treatment of female workers, members, or trainees.
This would include knowledge of the issues raised in this
report, sexual harassment prevention, and leadership training.
should amend CFR Section 1926.51 (toilets at construction
jobsites) to specify that gender-separate, external and
internal locking sanitary facilities be provided on construction
worksites, that employees be allowed to use such facilities
as needed, be provided keys for gender appropriate facilities,
that the toilet facilities be maintained in a sanitary condition
and in good repair (e.g., that locks work), that clean toilet
paper be provided within reach of the toilet, and that handwashing
facilities be located within close proximity to toilet facilities.
change rooms are provided on construction sites, they should
also be gender separated and provided with inside and outside
Protective Equipment and Clothing
standards on personal protective equipment for construction
(29 CFR 1926, Subpart E) should be revised to conform with
the General Industry Standard for PPE (29 CFR 1910.132)
which specifies that the employer select PPE that properly
fits each affected employee. As discussed in the preamble
to the General Industry Standard, this provision was added
in part to address concerns that PPE and PPC often did not
adequately fit female employees. Similar consideration should
be included in the Construction PPE standard to protect
all construction employees.
should produce and promote a resource guide on sources for
obtaining adequate fitting PPE and PPC for use in the construction
of PPC and PPE should be encouraged to expand the range
of sizes offered.
should provide the best fitting PPE and PPC currently available.
OSHA initiatives on ergonomics, such as the Technical Assistance
Manual, should address the ergonomic hazards that are specific
to gender. OSHA should monitor any ergonomic research conducted
on its behalf to ensure methodology that includes both male
and female subjects.
OSHA develops standards, materials, or guidance on ergonomics,
it should address gender-based needs.
unions, apprenticeship programs, and other training entities
for the construction industry should review skills training
curriculum to see whether alternative methods are included
for getting work accomplished by workers of different sizes
or strengths. All training programs should emphasize the
importance of not lifting weight beyond an individual's
capacity to do so in a safe manner.
should adopt standards similar to the American College of
Occupational Medicine's Reproductive Hazards Management
Guidelines to protect all workers of childbearing capacity
and pregnant construction workers.
should identify additional research needed to develop a
more comprehensive body of knowledge regarding reproductive
hazards in the construction workplace.
should have a Material Safety and Data Sheet (MSDS) for
each chemical present on the site. Employees should read
all MSDS and share information with their physicians if
they are pregnant or planning to become pregnant.
OSHA Training Institute curricula and/or other OSHA-sponsored
training should include gender-related safety and health
issues, i.e., PPE fit, sanitary facilities, workplace culture,
and reproductive hazards, whenever programs are provided
to the public and to federal and state OSHA compliance safety
and health officers.
should continue to enforce current on-the-job safety training.
and unions should make skills training courses available
and encourage female workers to take advantage of them.
The courses should provide female workers with more opportunities
to diversify their skills and minimize their chances of
doing tasks incorrectly or in an unsafe manner.
and Illness Data and Research
should work with the BLS, NIOSH, and other appropriate agencies
to obtain and analyze information on injuries and illnesses
among female construction workers. This information should
be contrasted with data for male construction workers and
other non-construction workers. This analysis would provide
guidance to OSHA compliance and policy development activities.
Recommendations for OSHA
OSHA inspects a construction workplace, it should identify
any female construction workers. OSHA inspectors should
interview a representative sample of women on the site to
ensure a broad, non-gender-biased perspective on health
and safety concerns of all workers. In addition, female
construction workers should be questioned about specific
health and safety concerns or issues that are unique to
tradeswomen on a jobsite. These issues may include, but
are not limited to:
adequacy of personal protective equipment;
sufficiency and sanitary conditions of toilet facilities;
adequacy of safety and health training;
of sexual harassment and other examples of hostility;
sexual harassment impacts or affects safety and health;
dialogue with female workers shall take place in a manner
that ensures the privacy of respondents.
facilitate such focused inspections, OSHA should develop
a checklist for on-site inspectors that outlines a range
of gender-related safety and health hazards as identified
in this report. The checklist should be used to assess conditions
by questioning both employers and employees. To promote
and support the use of the checklist, OSHA should provide
information and training for field staff.
should incorporate gender neutral language in standards,
training documents, and communications materials. Visual
materials, such as video and posters, should incorporate
images of female construction workers to promote the concept
of a diverse workforce.
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