15th August 2016

Health and safety given the feminine touch

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A health and safety guide for women has been launched by the Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC).

Despite women making up about half the workforce, occupational health and safety for women is often overlooked or misunderstood.

The toolkit is designed for trade union reps, shop stewards and officers to help negotiate with employers, represent members and to make a real difference.

It includes information about domestic violence, sexual harassment, pregnant workers and new mothers, stress and mental health, the menopause and cancer.

The STUC has listed six reasons why action must be taken:


  • Many workplace risks, such as lifting and twisting, exposure to chemicals, long hours, stress, high or low temperatures, may affect women more seriously than men because of physical differences, work and home lives.
  • The jobs many women do, such as cleaning, caring, clerical work or call centres, are often for long hours and repetitive.
  • There are physical differences from men, but chemical exposure limits, uniforms and protective equipment are often designed for a man of average weight or height.
  • Housework and caring duties mean women can double their exposure to chemicals and heavy lifting.
  • Discrimination against women can heighten safety hazards. Low pay and income, the burden of caring for others or domestic violence can add to workplace stress; women working alone or on night shifts may feel more vulnerable.
  • Pregnancy, menstruation and the menopause can make safety risks – such as standing for too long, insufficient toilet breaks or working at high temperatures –more serious.


Unionised workplaces are safer for women, according to research, which has shown that unionised workplaces are safer than those without safety reps and safety committees.

The union says that in workplaces where mainly or only women work, hazards are often unrecognised or under-researched and in workplaces where mainly men work, women are often expected to wear inappropriate safety clothes and differences between workplace health issues for men and women are insufficiently addressed.