Womens Health and Safety in the Work Place

Our Factsheet Womens Health & Safety gives basic information about common health and safety concerns raised by women at work including:

  • back pain
  • working with display screens
  • chemicals
  • repetitive strain injury
  • violence
  • stress
  • pregnancy
  • keeping well

Factors to take into account include:

  • women and men are concentrated in certain jobs, and therefore face hazards particular to those jobs
  • women and men are physically different, including in regard to reproduction
  • women and men have different responsibilities in the home. Working women may have two jobs, at work and in the home.

EU-OSHA produces publications on women and health and safety.

Previous research showed women’s occupational health and safety needed to be improved. The EU-OSHA study New risks and trends in the safety and health of women at work shows:

  • The employment rate of women is increasing but it is in part-time and temporary work.
  • Occupational segregation is increasing.
  • Informal work is increasing among women & these types of jobs are more to be likely unstable, unprotected and precarious.
  • Younger women work preferentially work in hospitality and retail, older women tend to work in health care and education.
  • Women are more likely to suffer from multiple discrimination at the workplace: this may be due to gender,  age, ethnic background, disability and sexual orientation; while migrant women in addition face discrimination based on their origin or class.
  • Some particularly vulnerable groups are migrant women  in informal work, such as cleaning and home care, women in multiple jobs, and very young mothers.
  • Women are more exposed to slips, trips and falls and to accidents linked to violence.
  • Violence is a particular issue in service sectors, and is increasing. Workers in personal services and working at clients premises are particularly vulnerable.
  • In the restaurant sector, 28.6% of the workers report long working days, only half (50.5%) have fixed starting and finishing times, almost a third work shifts (29.9%) and the mean working hours are among the highest.  Fewer report caring for children, consistent with the younger age of workers in hospitality. The conditions may have an influence on their reproductive health.
  • Women still receive lower wages – on average 17% less than men.
  • The number of women managers has slightly increased since 2003, but women remain under-represented in management positions and in the decision-making processes within companies.
  • Women are less likely to be union members and have difficulty electing their representatives. They may be overlooked in workplace risk assessments and when workers are consulted about their working conditions because they work part-time and in temporary jobs.

Women and dangerous substances

The EU-OSHA report says Women’s exposure to dangerous substances remains largely unexplored. Surveys show female workers are

  • more often exposed to infectious materials such as waste, bodily fluids and laboratory materials at work.
  • report more infectious diseases than men.
  • exposures to dangerous substances happen most in female-dominated the health sector.
  • workers in  hairdressing and cosmetology may be exposed to dangerous carcinogens.
  • In ‘green jobs’ in waste management women may also be exposed to asbestos and silica dusts, other harmful chemical substances and biological agents.
  • Food manufacturing and textile and leather industries are other sectors where women may be exposed to harmful substances.
The document New risks and trends in women’s health and safety at work has a comprehensive table on page 24 showing examples of potential exposures to dangerous substances for female workers (Table 1) and the document says it is crucial to avoid assumptions about what women are exposed to and employers must  apply the same principles of risk assessment, substitution and elimination, and the hierarchy of prevention measures as defined in EU prevention approach as for other workers.


Leave a comment
  • Hi

    I came to the last London Hazards meeting and found the discussions very insightful and informative.

    Now visiting your website I feel that this page on woman needs some serious and urgent reworking. Firstly to have “woman’ as a header alongside construction and transport make woman sound a hazard in their own right. I understand that the facts are extracted from statistics but as stand alone points they are very strange, old fashioned and insulting statements to read!

    If you are trying to support woman at work I’m sure you can do this in a more considered manner.

    I hope these comments don’t offend – I really don’t intend them to. But I hope you will reconsider how you are representing women here.

    Best wishes

  • Who on earth wrote the supposed ‘fact’ that: “women and men have different responsibilities in the home. Working women may have two jobs, at work and in the home”. Please do a course in feminism! Linda

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