Word to the WISE

I had a nice chat with WISE chair, Kelly Bernish, who says the group does not only address issues about women in the safety profession, but also wants to bring to the forefront some of the challenges that female workers face, in general. [Watch the interview with Bernish]

“So for example, exposure to certain chemicals being reproductive hazards and other things that are particular to women workers,” says Bernish, who is also the director of environmental, health and safety at Disney’s SeaWorld Orlando, Discovery Cove & Aquatica.

Today, women account for nearly half of Canada’s paid workforce. The same goes for the U.S. and the U.K. Over the past few years, the issues and challenges facing women in the workplace have gained more prominence, particularly those pertaining to the health and safety of female workers.

I discussed some of these challenges in my very first editorial as COS editor (What women want, May/June 2008). Statistics Canada data suggests that in the past two decades an increasing number of women workers are entering workplaces that were historically dominated by men, such as transportation, trades and construction. With more women moving into these types of jobs, experts say the biological and physiological differences between the two genders have health and safety consequences.??For instance, women operating equipment designed for male workers with larger physique may be at risk of physical or musculoskeletal injuries. Chemical and other hazards in the workplace, as Bernish points out, can negatively affect women’s reproductive health, such as exposure to radiation, glycol ethers, lead and strenuous physical labour.

It is encouraging to see that the industry is responding positively to this issue. More safety products, particularly personal protective equipment, are now being designed and developed especially for women workers. Workplace violence and harassment legislations in various jurisdictions across Canada also help in bringing forward women safety issues in the workplace.

Britain’s Trade Union Congress, which represents nearly seven million of U.K.’s workforce, has developed a gender-sensitivity checklist to help workplace health and safety managers gauge the effectiveness of their safety policies and procedures relative to gender differences. Although it was designed for the British workforce, this document might be a useful tool for all safety managers as they gauge the gender-responsiveness of their health and safety management systems.

WISE has now grown its membership to 1,800 female safety professionals, according to Bernish, and it’s continuously expanding worldwide. To commemorate ASSE’s 100th anniversary, WISE has launched the 100 Women project, recognizing 100 women across the globe who have made and are making a difference in safety.