Female Tradesworkers Run Special Safety Risks

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Female tradeswomen contend with numerous safety risks tied to their scarcity in the building sector. The bad economy is only making matters worse, says a leading researcher and writer on women in these nontraditional fields.

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Lack of Bathrooms

Lack of onsite bathrooms is also a large matter of contention for women in the trades.

Federal sanitation standards require employers to provide their employees with separate toilet facilities for each sex.

Boatman said these are often missing on actual worksites and female workers sometimes report having to jog 20 minutes to reach a facility. Jacobsohn added that a lack of or inadequate facilities cause frequent bladder infections in women.

Local unions are urged to establish joint safety and health committees, according to Carolyn Williams, human services director of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. Unions are responsible for maintaining records of on-the-job accidents and injuries and reporting "significant accident trends" to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and other government agencies. The OSHA Act of 1970 requires employers to provide employees with a place of employment that is free from known hazards causing or likely to cause death or serious physical harm to employees.

While OSHA regulations contain "hundreds of statues on safety and sexual harassment," enforcement of OSHA regulations has been weakened over time, Moccio said.

The leading cause of worksite fatalities in the construction trades is falling from a dangerous height. But standard fall harnesses aren't manufactured to fit women.

"They cut them right in the breasts," said Debra Chaplan, director of special programs for the State Building and Construction Trades Council. "Some jobsites have started using ones that form a triangle around the chest, but that just opens women up to even more sexual harassment."

Unless there is a major incident, a complaint won't get any action taken on it, even if it is a federal safety standard, Chaplan said.

"There are just not enough people to make it happen," she said.


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K. Aleisha Fetters is a freelance writer based in New York City.

For more information:

Legal Momentum:

The Center for Construction Research and Training:

State Building and Construction Trades Council:

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Equal Pay/Fair Wage

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I an electrician in Local 3 for over 30 years. I had to retire, earlier than I'd hoped, due to a lung disorder. I use to wear the masks that are made of paper whenever I was exposed to a job that would be very dusty(plaster board, concrete, etc). in addition to other hazardous elements. However, that mask was not rated for some of those elements. Who knew! When I was assigned to do jobs, that were really suppose to be for two people, I would improvise if possible. I would get a dolly and cut down the bundles of pipe or bx cable or whatever the load was, if I could. If I could not do that then I would tell the foreman that I needed help. I could care less what he thought. I kept my health first. However, there were times when I had to do a job that I felt was not too much to ask, especially as an apprentice. I remember working on the second ave. subway line when it was coming from Roosevelt Island. They had bored a hole thru 6" concrete (might have been 5) for 4" galvanized pipe. The whole was to small and it had to be enlarged by using a Jack Hammer. I was working with men who were over 6'feet tall. I was 5'2". They assigned the job to me. Since I would not hold the hammer in the air the drilled a bolt in the wall, tied a rope to it, and then wrapped the rope around my waist and strapped the jack hammer to it. It didn't dawn on me that this was NOT RIGHT! They left me there until I was done. A bunch of Real MEN!
This is just one of many horror stories that I went thru in the industry. The truth of the matter is that safety is not a priority for most male workers MONEY is!
As for women in the trades the men make it hard on us so that we will quit. That's the way it was 30 years ago and it has not changed by much. Perhaps there are a few men that are more brotherly to the sisters in the trade but they are in the vast minority.
Pressure has to come from the government onto the contractors, the contractors onto the unions and from the unions on to the members. Pressure that women must be treated equal. That women must be furnished with the proper fitting tools, gloves, safety equipment, etc. That SEXUAL HARASSMENT IS A SAFETY ISSUE AND WILL NOT BE TOLERATED. THAT NO WORKER SHALL BE PUT IN A HAZARDOUS SITUATION! It’s 30 years later and we are still on our own. Sisters need to unite and take care of each other. Tradeswomen need to respect each other, value each other and support each other. In UNITY THERE IS STRENGTH. How do you think the unions got there strength?