OSHA Alliance Elevates Safety Issues for Women in Construction

OSHA and NAWIC will work together on gender-specific risks.

Construction is a dangerous industry for men and women alike. But with women comprising just 9 percent of the construction workforce, the gender-specific safety risks they face on the job don’t always get much. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), through an alliance with the National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC), is looking to change that. The alliance was formed in 2013 and was renewed in December 2017.

“Through our alliance, we work together on construction workplace hazards that are of particular concern to women, including ill-fitted personal protective equipment, sanitation issues (including restroom access) and workplace intimidation/violence,” wrote Kimberly Darby, OSHA spokesperson, in an email.

To date, the alliance has helped increase awareness around the importance of personal protective equipment designed for women’s bodies. OSHA and NAWIC also published best practices for clean and sanitary restrooms for women at jobsites.

“If you don’t have separate facilities for women, it becomes painful for women. They may not use a bathroom if they don’t feel it’s safe, private and sanitary. Having gender-specific restrooms on site makes a huge difference,” said Catherine Schoenenberger, president of NAWIC.

NAWIC and OSHA will continue to push these issues forward over the next five years, but they also plan to tackle another area of concern for women workers: sexual harassment on the job.

“Going into this next move is the #metoo movement,” said Schoenenberger. “If you’re a woman on a jobsite, you can expect to be harassed, whether that’s by bullying or innuendo, and that’s not acceptable.”

In 2014 the National Women’s Law Center reported that while 25 percent of women in the general workforce had experienced sexual harassment at work, that figure jumped to 88 percent for female construction workers. According to the center, the incidence of harassment is higher in workplaces that have traditionally excluded womenSchoenenberger said NAWIC wants to use the alliance to create greater awareness of sexual harassment as a safety issue on jobsites.

“Through the alliance, participants will work together to educate female construction workers on protections that should exist at a worksite to ensure their safety and health, and provide information on how to raise safety and health-related concerns with employers,” said Darby.

By reducing sexual harassment, providing access to sanitary restrooms and ensuring that personal protective equipment fits properly, the alliance will not only help keep women safe but also make the construction industry a more welcoming space for women workers.

“It’s going to take a while, but hopefully we can turn the tide,” said Schoenenberger. “We can’t attract and retain workers if we’re not protecting them.”

Joni Sweet is a journalist with interests that range from workers’ rights and business success to travel, health and lifestyle. You can read more of her work at www.jonimsweet.com.