The number of women employed in the U.S. construction industry grew substantially (by 81.3 percent) from 1985 to 2007; however, the number of female workers declined sharply from 2007 to 2010 due to a loss of more than 2.5 million construction jobs.From 2007 to 2010, more than 300,000 women workers left the construction industry. While only 9 percent of U.S. construction workers are women, there were still more than 800,000 female workers employed in construction (i.e., managerial, professional, administrative and production employees) in 2010. Of those, approximately 200,000 were employed in production occupations, such as laborers, electricians, plumbers, etc.
Table I: Number of female Workers in Construction,
Selected Years, 1985-2010 (All types of employment)
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
In addition to the primary hazards faced by all construction workers, certain safety and health issues may create barriers to women entering and remaining in the industry.
Personal Protective Equipment
Many women in nontraditional jobs, such as the construction trades, have encountered improperly fitting personal protective equipment (PPE) and personal protective clothing (PPC), which may compromise their personal safety. PPE used by female workers should be based on female anthropometric (body measurement) data. Women should make a point to test employer-provided PPE. If it is uncomfortable or unsuitable for the worker (e.g., improperly fitting or damaged from wear or defect), they should report this condition to their employer and request a suitable replacement.
PPE must fit properly so it can effectively protect the employee from the hazard for which it was designed. There has been tremendous progress in the availability of PPE for women. The International Safety Equipment Association (ISEA) reports that many employers provide a full range of sizes for PPE. ISEA lists manufacturers that offer safety equipment in various sizes that is appropriate for women in construction.
The Ontario Women’s Directorate and the Industrial Accident Prevention Association (IAPA) co-authored a 35 page publication titled, Personal Protective Equipment For Women – Addressing the Need Both; the ISEA list and IAPA publication can be found under PPE for Women.
Other related factors include:
- limited employer knowledge in how to obtain health and safety products specifically, designed for women working in non-traditional jobs; and
- limited availability of a full range of stock and sizes of PPE at the retail/wholesale/distributor levels for health and safety product lines designed for female workers.
In addition to compliance with OSHA regulations, whenever employers are required to purchase PPE, they should select a range of sizes suitable for women. Employers should maintain a directory of PPE manufacturers and suppliers, keep appropriate size ranges in stock and ensure direct accessibility as required.
Sanitary Facilities at the Construction Site
OSHA’s Sanitation standard, 29 CFR 1926.51 requires employers to provide accessible sanitary facilities for all personnel and to ensure these facilities are maintained in an appropriately clean and sanitary condition.
Access to sanitary facilities can be challenging on some construction sites. Temporary facilities are usually unisex, and often not very well maintained or are over used. As a result, women report that they avoid drinking water on the job, risking heat stress and other health problems because of the lack of appropriate facilities available to them. Due to the lack of available sanitary facilities, female workers experience a higher incidence of bladder and kidney infections.
In addition to compliance with OSHA regulations, employers should provide separate bathrooms for male and female workers with a container of hand sanitizer. If the work is at night, maintain bathroom facilities in an open area that is well illuminated.
The preamble of the OSHA Field Sanitation Standard, which was developed and published in the 1980s, contains a great deal of health risk assessment that is helpful for women in construction. OSHA’s current construction sanitation standard is OSHA 29 CFR §1926.51.
State OSHA Guidance Documents and Regulation
- Toilets at Construction Jobsites. Title 8 of California’s regulatory code, California OSHA, Construction Sanitation Standard.
- Availability of and Access to Toilets and Hand Washing Facilities, Standards Notice 58 NC Depart of Labor (NCDOL).
- Women in Construction, Construction Quick Card. NC Depart of Labor (NCDOL).
- Women in the Construction Workplace: Providing Equitable Safety and Health Protection. Advisory Committee on Construction Safety and Health, (HASWIC) workgroup, 12 pages, June 1999.
- Diversity and Women in Construction Workgroup.
- Women’s Bureau. Women in the workforce are vital to the nation’s economic security. The Women’s Bureau develops policies and standards, and conducts inquiries to safeguard the interests of working women; to advocate for their equality and economic security for themselves and their families, and to promote quality work environments.
- Women Working in Green Construction & Energy Efficiency Fact Sheet, U.S. Department of Labor, Women’s Bureau.
National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health
- Women’s Safety and Health Issues at Work. NIOSH/CDC, Education and Information Division.
- Working Women Face High Risks from Work Stress, Musculoskeletal injuries, other disorders, NIOSH Finds. NIOSH/CDC.
- Lead – Pregnant Women: Are You Pregnant? NIOSH/CDC.
- Providing Safety and Health Protection for a Diverse Construction Workforce: Issues and Ideas. NIOSH/CDC, DHHS Publication 99-140.
- Stressors and Adverse Outcomes for Female Construction Workers. NIOSH/CDC.
- Workplace Safety and Women. Podcasts at CDC, NIOSH/CDC.
EEO/Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP)
- Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs administers and enforces three equal employment opportunity laws: Executive Order 11246, as amended (EO); Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended, (503); and the Vietnam Era Veterans’ Readjustment Assistance Act of 1974, as amended, 38 U.S.C. 4212 (VEVRAA).
- Construction Contractors Technical Assistance. This Technical Assistance Guide is designed to help federal and federally assisted construction contractors and subcontractors comply with the federal laws and regulations that prohibit federal and federally assisted construction contractors from discriminating in employment, and require that they undertake affirmative action to ensure equal employment opportunity in their workforces.
- EEO and Affirmative Action Specification #1.
- EEO and Affirmative Action Specification #14.
- Sex Discrimination Guidelines, Part 60–20.3(e) Job policies and practices [PDF*].
- Worker Fact Sheets. U.S. Department of Labor, Office of Federal Compliance Programs (OFCCP).
- How to File a Discrimination Complaint
- Frequently Asked Questions. OFCCP.
- Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Information about filing a charge with EEOC.
- Facts about Sexual Harassment – (Violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964). For additional information see:
- Questions and Answers for Small Employers on Employer Liability for Harassment by Supervisors
- Sexual Harassment. U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
- Council on Women and Girls
- Building Equality for Women in the Construction Trades. University of Massachusetts Boston.