The International Women’s Day is celebrated on March 8th, 2023. Under this frame, the FreeMe project aims to highlight the importance of gender dimension within research activities.
In a previous blog post, we discussed the hazards associated with the electroplating process. Workers in the surface finishing industry deal with various chemicals daily. Therefore, it is essential to fully understand the gender differences within the workplace and ensure that health and safety of both male and female workers is ensured.
Why should we consider gender as an important factor?
Regarding the gender-based chemical safety at the workplace, two aspects shall be considered, namely the exposure and the impact of exposure to chemicals. Gender can be considered a factor that affects the magnitude and duration of exposure to chemicals. Currently, women are less likely to be involved in decision-making and represented in unions of men-dominated occupations. However, it is of great importance to involve all genders not only in the risk assessment but also in the worker training. A common potential risk for women is the misfitting personal protective equipment (PPE). PPE are usually designed to fit the male body sizes. As a result, misfitting PPE are leading to increased risk of chemical exposure.
Another aspect that should be considered is the sex dependent impact of exposure to chemicals. Males and females present different susceptibilities to chemicals. Particularly, nickel, which is widely used in the plating industry, can induce skin allergies, eczema, contact dermatitis. These effects are more common in women. Moreover, during childbearing years and pregnancy periods, females may be strongly affected by even low doses of chemical compounds. In addition, several studies observed increased occupational cancer rates in females exposed to chemicals, raising concerns about the different cellular response to oxidative stress among sexes.
Chemical safety should take into account all the gender-based factors and ensure that the workers’ health and safety is protected. Identification of these factors and embracing of the gender dimension shall not be considered as an excuse for discrimination against female workers, but instead, it is a starting point for advancing the measures of protection of workers’ health and safety.
Chemicals and gender, UNDP Environment & energy group, 2011