Injuries To Women In Construction

The construction industry continues to be a male-dominated field. However, women have slowly become more visible in the construction trades. According to a 2010 report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, women made up 9 percent of construction industry employees - 800,000 workers. The number of female construction workers grew by around 80 percent between 1985 and 2007, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. The number has decreased somewhat since, primarily because jobs in the construction industry declined during the economic downturn.

With an increased presence on road construction crews, at building sites and among construction firm owners, women are beginning to articulate their specific needs, especially when it comes to preventing injuries and implementing workplace safety rules that protect both women and men.

In the fall of 2013, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) responded by teaming up with the National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC) to focus on workplace safety and security issues of particular concern to women working in the industry. The alliance will focus for two years on areas that especially affect women in the building trades.

Areas Of Concern To Women In The Construction Industry

The joint initiative will develop training materials and implementation guides for employers that focus on three areas of interest to female workers in the field:

  • Personal protective equipment (PPE) that is sized appropriately for women. Women usually have smaller heads, hands and feet than men, and finding equipment that actually provides the intended protection can be difficult. Moreover, if the equipment does not fit properly, not only does it fail to provide protection, but workers may be reluctant to use it, increasing the risk of injury. One size does not fit all.
  • Sanitation facility initiatives. When bathroom facilities are not clean, well-lighted and in a safe location, women may avoid using them and may limit water intake, resulting in an increased chance of heatstroke and bladder or urinary tract infections. Recommendations include providing separate bathrooms or portable toilets for male and female workers, hand sanitizer, well-lighted areas for bathroom use at night and regular cleaning of facilities.
  • Right-sized tools and equipment. Using tools and equipment designed for larger male workers can force smaller female workers to exert additional force. The result can be increased risk of serious ergonomic injuries that create back, neck and leg problems.

Another issue that contributes to increased risk of injury for women in construction is the presence of a hostile work environment. Workers who find their co-workers threatening or unhelpful are less likely to request assistance from them. This increases the likelihood of injury when trying to perform a task such as lifting that could be difficult for someone with less upper body strength. Another consequence of a hostile work environment can be assault or even homicide, and women are particularly vulnerable, given the animosity with which some men greeted the addition of female employees to work sites.

Common Injuries Suffered By Women In The Construction Industry

According to a 2000 report from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), women suffer more motor vehicle injuries and fatalities than their male counterparts, possibly because women often worked as flaggers at road construction sites when the report was released. This type of job leaves workers particularly vulnerable to injury and death caused by speeding vehicles and road rage. Of women killed in motor vehicle accidents while working, 30 percent of them were flaggers, according to the NIOSH study, "Women working in construction: risks and rewards."

The same report also showed that women construction workers were more likely to be injured or killed as a result of harassment or assault at worksites. Although precise data is unavailable, the OSHA web page, Women in Construction, indicates that women in the field are more vulnerable than men to suffer injury as a result of missing or improperly fitted PPE, incorrectly sized tools and other equipment. For example, gloves that are too big can be caught in machinery and boots that are too long can cause trips, slips and falls.

Keeping women employees safe and injury-FREE while working construction is a job for everyone - male and female workers, labor unions, construction company owners and agencies charged with protecting the health and safety of all workers. Women have come a long way when it comes to working in traditionally male fields, but they must be sure that those fields are as safe for them as they are for their male colleagues.

If you were injured while working construction in New York, an attorney may be able to help you obtain compensation.