Yesterday we held the second women’s occupational health and safety seminar. The session was run by, Sarah Friday, National Official, with responsibility for both health and safety and Women in Napo.
As with the event last year, the day was popular and women attending gave excellent feedback. Fewer members attended than previously with some reporting work related pressure and stress as a reason they could not participate which illustrates perfectly the need for the sessions.
The day started with an enthusiastic presentation by Andrea Manson, Senior Health and Safety Advisor for the NPS. Andrea explained work her team have been doing to ensure that work related stress is responded to appropriately. Participants took away the following as key learning:
Next we heard from Andrea Oates, freelance journalist and author of a recent Labour Research Department booklet on women’s occupational health and safety.
Andrea explained how women’s occupational health and safety can be less visible as women are often perceived not to work in dangerous environments however much research proves that women are harmed by their work.
An example was a study that found women sewing machinists lifted more and were more likely to be injured by their work than men working in a plastic factory were. Women working in the beauty industry are wrongly not viewed to be at risk from chemicals and potential irritants that they work with, and women working in caring professions often experience musculoskeletal problems that aren’t reported as industrial injuries in the same way that other injuries are. Work related fatality statistics do not include any fatalities that occur during travel or those from diseases.
Andrea also discussed the hidden dangers related to the “double burden” that many women face: the expectation to work in the home as well as any paid employment and risks such as exposure to chemicals that can be exacerbated by additional exposure during the “second shift” of work in the home or carrying out caring responsibilities.
Andrea’s booklet is available from the LRD, to which many branches subscribe.
Finally, before lunch we heard from Scarlett Harris, TUC women’s officer. Scarlett explained that discrimination related to pregnancy and maternity is getting worse instead of improving and is now a significant risk to women.
In addition, there are additional health and safety considerations for women who are pregnant or nursing such as exposure to chemicals, lifting, stress, violence, access to toilets and other services. In a recent survey, 1 in 5 women described leaving work due to these risks in pregnancy.
Pregnancy and maternity discrimination includes the implementation of family friendly policies and flexible working rights and the picture painted by the research is bleak, illustrating the significant negative impact on women who choose to become mothers.
After lunch, Professor Myra Hunter and Dr Claire Hardy attended to present further findings of their research into menopause and menstrual related health and safety issues in the workplace.
The work they have done has resulted in interesting findings about women’s experience of menopause in work and they have produced a CBT based guide to managing difficult symptoms for women as well as online training for managers to support them to have positive and helpful conversations with employees who might be experiencing difficulties at work. This has now expanded to cover all menstrual related difficulties after some surprising findings about the prevalence of these in the workplace.
For Napo members working in predominantly female workforces these will be important issues to cover in terms of health and safety as well as more general representation work as there is a clear link to the draconian sickness absence policies used by some employers. When Dr Claire Hardy described some of the “do’s and don’ts” for managers discussing menstrual and menopause related issues with staff we considered how general sexism and stereotyping can lead to an environment where these conversations are more difficult.
We finished the day thinking about how we can move forward; Napo needs more Health and Safety reps and more awareness of these important issues. We intend to take a motion to TUC women’s conference and the group had some great ideas to help this. We also considered how some of these issues can be incorporated into the 2019 Women in Napo conference so we can build on the learning and share it more widely