The TUC has published a guide which it says highlights the need for gender specific risk assessments in the workplace.
The new guide, Gender in occupational health and safety, outlines how women at work can face different risks and issues compared to male colleagues, and the need for gender-specific risk assessments.
The TUC argues that the health and safety has historically prioritised the needs of men and inherently hazardous work in male-dominated industries such as construction and mining.
By comparison, typical workplace injuries suffered by female workers, such as, musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs), dermatitis and work-related stress, have historically received less attention.
The TUC says that risks differ between the genders on MSDs, where women tend to suffer from upper back and limb pain as a result of repetitive work, while men tend to suffer more from lower-back pain from exerting high force at work.
The Union also reveals that bullying and harassment can be a more frequent problem for women and that female workers in male-dominated professions such as construction and the emergency services could be at risk from inappropriately designed tools and ill-fitting personal protection equipment.
The TUC cites the example of the use of “standard” face shapes in the design of respiratory protective equipment (RPE), which the guide says mean that RPE fits most women comparatively poorly.
TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: “People come in all shapes and sizes and when it comes to health and safety, the ‘one size fits all’ approach is old-fashioned and dangerous. Nowhere is that clearer then when looking at gender.”
Last year, a survey by the Equality and Human Rights Commission found that 1 in 5 of employers who carried out a risk assessment when a women reported she was pregnant took no action, even when risks were identified and 1 in 5 expectant workers ended up leaving employment because of the risks.
As a result of this survey, the HSE undertook to update its guidance to employers on pregnant workers. A later report by MPs on the Women and Equalities Select Committee also urged the HSE to ensure that existing guidance was properly enforced.
Lara Murray an Associate Solicitor and health and safety legal expert, said: “The whole point of conducting a risk assessment is to ensure that each and every employee, regardless of their gender, age, height, body shape or state of general health, is properly protected from harm in the workplace.
“A risk assessment is not a standardised tick box procedure, it needs to take into account the individual needs of your employees in order to be fit for purpose and this means regularly reviewing it to ensure that your workers’ changing personal circumstances are covered.”
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