In the last several years, an increase in HVAC, construction, ventilation verification and other work has led to a growth in continent-wide demand for the skills and expertise provided by SMART members. As the need for sheet metal workers has intensified, so too has the drive to recruit more women into the trade, and the 21st-century workforce looks more diverse than ever before. With this opportunity comes a similar sense of responsibility: the greater and more diverse our union and industry grow, the harder we must work to safeguard the well-being of every member of our union.
Health and safety concerns in construction and the trades affect both women and men, but some problems can have a greater impact on women. Interviews and focus groups of women construction workers conducted by Chicago Women in Trades and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health identified several recurring issues. As in other male-dominated fields, women in construction have reported facing a hostile workplace, sexual harassment, isolation and job insecurity. These stresses can add to the pressure already created by tight deadlines and complicated work.
Physical challenges and job site dynamics unique to women add to this disparity. Women are between two and five times more likely than men to experience upper body sprains and strains at work. Excessive lifting and repetitive motions are all known risk factors for back injuries and other musculoskeletal disorders, regardless of gender — and it’s important to remember that many things on a job site, from tools to protective equipment to portable toilets, have historically been designed for men’s bodies.
As we step into a bright future, it’s up to all of us, men and women, to help one another survive and thrive in the sheet metal industry. Among other things, that means:
- Making sure all workers have access to tools and personal protective equipment at a jobsite, including respirators, fall protection harnesses, gloves and safety goggles that fit properly and comfortably.
- Providing portable bathroom facilities on job sites that are safe and hygienic for any worker to use.
For guidance on navigating stress and work culture as a woman in the sheet metal industry, view the SMART Sister Tips from women working in locals all over the country, a series that kicked off Women in Construction Week earlier this spring.
As always, the SMOHIT Helpline, 877-884-6227, is available 24/7, with a trained counselor ready to take your call if you are experiencing a crisis.