Every year, more than two million workers throughout the world die as a result of work-related accidents and illnesses, and the numbers are increasing.

However, because of an unequal distribution across occupations and sectors, there are certain professions where there are more women workers, and these expose them to different types of risks compared to the sectors where there are more men and which have a different impact on health.
This is why whenever we speak of occupational health and safety, we must always remember to consider the gender perspective.

On the other hand, health policies that target the working population in general do not necessarily fully benefit women to the extent that they are not only workers, but at the same time they are also mothers, wives and in many cases also the head of the family.

Health risks to which women workers are exposed

The type of work women perform, which differs from that of men, as well as the different roles imposed on women by society, means that they have to cope with the dual burden of domestic and professional work. This has direct repercussions on their health.

Risks associated with a particular type of work Risks associated with gender roles
Feminized sectors Repetitive movements, awkward postures, monotonous work Double work burden, discrimination, violence, sexual harassment

It is also true that women are much more frequently the victims of sexual harassment, violence at the workplace and at home, and occupational discrimination which has negative effects on their health.

Lastly, women – as a result of their biological role – are particularly affected by labour conditions during pregnancy and breast-feeding because this can have a lasting effect on their health as mothers and on the health of their unborn children.

Occupational segregation

Although an increasing number of women are joining the labour market, they continue to be underrepresented in certain occupations and sectors.

In the services sector, there are more women employed in health-related activities (hospitals, care for the elderly, etc.), primary and pre-school education, administrative work, banks, commerce and hotels.

In the manufacturing industries, there are more women employed in textile manufacturing, micro electronics, food and pharmaceuticals.

A significant number of women work in the informal sector and/or are underemployed.

Women also have fewer opportunities when it comes to finding decent work, and as a result they end up having to accept monotonous jobs with long working hours and precarious employment conditions, without access to basic health and safety services.

Occupational segregation has a particularly strong impact as it exposes women to certain risks as a result of their working conditions. These risks are responsible for specific health complaints.

Examples of hazards and risks found in female-dominated work
Work area Risk factors and health problems include:
Biological Physical Chemical Psychosocial
Healthcare Infectious bloodborne diseases; respiratory diseases Manual handling and strenuous postures Cleaning, sterilising and disinfecting agents, drugs, anaesthetic gases Emotionally demanding work;
shift and night work;
violence from clients and the public
Nursery and homes care workers Infectious diseases, particularly respiratory Manual handling;
strenuous postures
Emotionally demanding work
Cleaning Infection diseases;
dermatitis
Manual handling;
strenuous postures;
slips and falls;
wet hands
Cleaning agents Unsocial hours leading to isolation;
violence
Work area Examples of hazards and risks found in female-dominated work:
Biological Physical Chemical Psychosocial
Catering and restaurant work Dermatitis Manual handling;
repetitive chopping;
cuts from knives;
burns;
slips and falls;
heat;
cleaning agents
Passive smoking;
cleaning agents
Stress from hectic work, dealing with the public, violence and harassment
Textiles and clothing Organic dust Noise;
repetitive movements and awkward postures;
needle injuries
Dyes and other chemicals including formaldehyde in permanent presses and stain removal solvents;
dust
Stress associated with repetitive assembly line work
Laundries Infected linen e.g. in hospitals Manual handling and strenuous postures;
heat
Dry cleaning solvents Stress associated with repetitive and fast pace work
Call centres Musculoskeletal disorders;
vision problems
Voice problems associated with talking;
awkward postures;
excessive sitting
Poor indoor air quality Stress associated with dealing with clients, pace of work and repetitive work
Hairdressing Respiratory and musculoskeletal disorders;
dermatitis.
Strenuous postures, repetitive movements, prolonged standing;
wet hands;
cuts
Chemical sprays, dyes, etc. Stress associated with dealing with clients;
fast paced work
Clerical work Musculoskeletal disorders Repetitive movements, awkward postures, back pain from sitting Poor indoor air quality;
photocopier fumes
Stress, e.g. associated with lack of control over work, frequent interruptions, monotonous work