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Wednesday, August 25, 1999 Published at 10:28 GMT 11:28 UK


Campaign to boost women workers' health

Women's work risks have tended to be ignored, says the TUC

A major campaign is being launched to highlight the health problems faced by women at work.

The TUC is linking up with BackCare, formerly the National Back Pain Association, to promote safe working for women.

The campaign will run from 4 October to 31 October. Over 30,000 posters and leaflets will be distributed to workplaces and union representatives will be advised how to spot work-related back strain.

The TUC says women workers suffer more repetitive injuries, back pain, eyestrain and skin diseases than men.

And the risks they run are more likely to be ignored because of the male bias in health and safety legislation where standard have been set according to male models.

It is releasing a report, Gender sensitive health and safety, which shows that 63% of women complained of back pain, compared with a 44% average.

Fifty-three per cent of women complained repetitive strain injury, compared to 37% overall, and 88% said they suffered from stress, compared to 77% overall.

'Average man'

TUC General Secretary John Monks said: "Women make up half the workforce. But health and safety standards are still set for the 'average man' and injury compensation is still paid mostly to men.

"We want employers, unions and government inspectors to drop the health and safety blindfold, and become more sensitive to how many women suffer workplace injuries and illness."

The report calls on the Health and Safety Executive to:

  • Conduct a 'gender audit' to assess the way health and safety measures affect women
  • Produce more analysis of the effect on workplace injuries and illness on women
  • Promote more positive images of women at work in its publications to raise awareness of the health and safety hazards facing women

A previous TUC report, Woman's Work is Never Safe, said almost 12 million women could be risking their health because of work problems, such as stress, heavy lifting, contact with dangerous chemicals and eyestrain caused by staring at a VDU.

Back pain

The report also stated that at least 100,000 women a year develop work-related back pain, for example, because of lifting heavy loads.

A 1995 report by the Health and Safety Executive suggests women are more likely than men to suffer from a range of injuries:

  • They are more likely to suffer from work-related skin diseases than men and often suffer a double dose of exposure to chemicals due to their work in the home
  • Twice as many women suffer from eyestrain, mostly related to VDU work, than men
  • Women are a third more likely to report that they have been physically attacked by a member of the public in their work than men

Part of the reason for the discrepancies is that women tend to be concentrated in professions that cause certain types of health hazards.

For example, hairdressers have a high level of skin problems because of the chemicals involved.

[ image: Women suffer more eyestrain than men, mainly due to VDU work]
Women suffer more eyestrain than men, mainly due to VDU work
Women are also more likely to be working in the caring professions, such as nursing, which bring them into close contact with the public and which are associated with a high level of physical violence.

And they tend to be more exposed than men to repetitive and monotonous work which increase the danger of repetitive strain injury.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) says it has concentrated on risks related to specific jobs, rather than gender issues.

It adds that men are more likely to suffer some health problems than women.

For example, they are more than seven times more likely to suffer from deafness, three times more prone to work-related asthma and bronchitis and more likely to suffer from stress, according to an HSE survey.

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