Objectives Construction work can be dangerous, with exposure to toxic chemicals, heavy equipment, electrocution, and ergonomic stressors. Little is known about women-specific hazards, and whether their minority status – less than 3% of skilled trades workers in the United States are women – subjects them to additional health and safety risks. Our study explores the nature, range, and extent of tradeswomen’s workplace hazards, with a goal of reducing their risks through effective program development.
Methods Four focus groups were held in 2015 with 19 tradeswomen and 6 tradesmen, identified by community partners, from Washington State. Groups discussed physical and psychosocial workplace hazards and strategies to reduce them. Findings were independently analysed and informed development of a conceptual model on occupational and psychosocial stressors for tradeswomen. The theoretical framework guided creation of a questionnaire assessing the impact of health and safety hazards on women workers’ well-being. The survey was pilot tested with 3 tradeswomen and 2 tradesmen, and later administered using online, paper, and phone methods.
Results Focus group findings revealed the challenges tradeswomen face in the male-dominated industry. From inadequate safety equipment to fears of asking for help or reporting their needs, tradeswomen are concerned about their health and safety. Preliminary survey data support the qualitative results. As of March 11, 2016, our survey had 211 participants. Almost three-quarters (73%) are women, and trades include 22% electricians, 19% labourers, and 13% plumbers/pipefitters.
Conclusions The condition of tradeswomen is improving, but the industry lags in supporting their health and safety needs. Focus group findings and preliminary survey data suggest that gender-related stressors (including discrimination, tokenism, and overcompensation) play an important role in determining tradeswomen’s risk for negative health outcomes. Our conceptual model highlights the complicated nature of women’s workplace risks and indicates within-trade mentorship programs as a good area for future intervention.
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