Employers must offer healthy and safe work for women

We need gender equality at work to compete in the world economy, therefore the workplace must offer healthy and safe work for women.

Gender equality and diversity is essential in the modern global economy, writes Railway Safety Regulator research head, Dr Cornel Malan in a challenge to Sheq practitioners.

According to the SA National Planning Commission’s (NPC) Vision and Diagnostic Report, employers must enable women to work, develop their skills and their general economic status.

Research indicates several barriers to the advancement of women in industries such as construction, mining, transport, and rail; where jobs are mainly technical, work hours are irregular, and the working environment is classified as risky or hazardous.

Among the barriers to safe work for women are;
• Reluctance of employers to hire women in technical positions as interns, graduates or permanent employees.
• Less favourable working conditions in terms of wages, access to training, family-unfriendly work hours, tough ergonomic conditions, and the risk of violence and harassment.
• Cultural stereotypes that associate women and men with specific roles and tasks in every sector.
• A male-dominated sector that implies little experience and awareness with women’s issues and rights, such as maternity leave, hours of work, part time jobs, shift patterns.
• Poor health and safety conditions, such as insufficient sanitary facilities or change-rooms.

Gender mainstreaming in industry would have to ensure:
• Increased participation of women in all occupations, including technical and operational professions.
• Equal access to all professions.
• Adequate workplace safety and security measures to allow women to work shifts when applicable.
• Equal access to training and development activities.
• Equal procurement opportunities for services and goods.
• A gender equality workplace culture.

Transport enables gender equality

Transport and its related services is a critical catalyst for economic growth, and direct and indirect job creation in South Africa. The provision of affordable, safe and reliable transportation of goods and people has been included in the critical national drivers for the development of the country.

In his recent SA State of the Nation address, President Zuma specifically emphasises the role of rail as part of the National Infrastructure development program. He made special mention of Transnet and PRASA rail projects, which are aimed at expanding and modernising the South African freight and passenger rail transport industry.

Women represent 46% of the Economically Active Population (EAP) in South Africa, yet the unemployment level for women is higher than that for men.

The two mayor operators in the South African Rail industry have made significant strides towards the inclusion of women. PRASA’s Women in Rail initiative includes risk management for women at work.

Skills crisis leads to safety crisis

Exxaro CEO Sipho Nkosi labelled the skills issue in South Africa a national crisis. The Solidarity Research Institute Report also agrees that “there is definitely a skills shortage in South Africa, for Artisans, Technician and Engineers”.

• South Africa has only 10% of the artisans it had 20 years ago
• There is a 40% shortage of artisans
• Griniker LTA has had to import welders from Malaysia, Ireland and India
• Sasol had imported 1300 Thai artisans and welders
• SA engineers ratio against population is 1:3200, compared to 1:130 in China, 1:270 in Europe, 1:450 in Australia.
• SA produces 1400 engineering graduates per year, against a demand for 2400 per year.

The Railway Safety Regulator (RSR) voiced its concerns regarding the impact of skills shortages at rail operators in terms of transport safety risks.

Based on recent loss incidents, errors and violations linked to a lack of skills are the primary causes. The rail operator body PRASA cited “an acknowledged shortage of key skills, as well as a lack of depth of skills in critical areas in PRASA.”

Transnet has also cited the loss of operational critical skills as one of their major health and safety risks.

The RSR Bursary scheme for employees includes a traineeship for Junior Railway Safety Inspectors over a two-year period. Two female apprentices have been appointed as trainee inspectors.

• This post is an extract from a full and referenced paper. Railway Safety Regulator research head, Dr Cornel Malan, writes in her personal capacity.

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Edmond Furter

Editor at Sheqafrica.com
Edmond Furter is the editor of Sheqafrica.com. He is a freelance technical journalist, and has won six journalism awards. He specialises in industrial, business, and cultural content in web, journal, and book formats.

5 thoughts on “Employers must offer healthy and safe work for women

  1. With WW2, another unnecessary war, women were drafted into the workplace a great number of them in the manufacturing of weapons.
    I fully agree with equality 100% and believe every woman should have the right to work in a healthy and safe environment.
    However, the sad fact is that a perception is created that the only worth a woman has is that she must working citizen to earn respect, instead of being honored for the role she already plays.

  2. Yes, and the unemployed, the blind, the deaf, the poor, the homeless and all the other people of this world.
    Why gender equality has to be brought into the H&S arena, beats me. If you work, it has to be within a safe and healthy work environment, regardless of sex, sexual orientation, religion, race and all the other “discriminating factors.
    Gender inequality is a real problem, but has nothing to do with H&S.
    Or do you think women cannot operate machinery, working at heights, operate trucks and forklifts? If this is your view, you are part of the problem.
    Or are ladders more dangerous to women than men?
    What did the circuit breaker say to the earth leakage unit?
    “Here comes a woman, trip her”
    Come on – H&S is for everybody!

  3. My point exactly:
    “PRASA’s Women in Rail initiative includes risk management for women at work.”
    Women are “different” than men and requires “risk management”? OR am I over-sensitive? Why do you need initiatives to manage risks differently for women at work?
    Are the risks not the same? Except for certain chemicals which have “reproductive and pregnancy risks, which is already legislated, there is no difference, unless you see us “unequal” to our male counterparts. Great, so H&S now adds to the “cultural” beliefs that women needs to be treated differently? Seriously?

  4. I appreciate the comments, and fully agree with them all. However, what is of concern, is the fact that in my experience over the years, and increasingly so due to the focus on increasing the number of women in areas previously seen as best suited for males, some employers use the excuse that women might require additional measures to manage pregnancy, physical capabilities and the like. Although we all agree that such excuses are unwarranted, they are sadly real, and in some cases also relevant, for example pregnant women cannot work in areas where there is high levels of radiation, vibration, extreme heat, to name but a few. For me it as about creating an environment where women who choose to pursue a career in the rail industry can work safely, over and above the normal H&S requirements that should be in place in any case.

    That being said, thank for reading my article, and for taking part in a very important and relevant conversation!

  5. Doctor, Section 26(1) of the BCEA addresses pregnancy and breast feeding via the published code of good practice. If this is followed as it should, we should not even discuss the issue of woman at work. However, as a civil engineer and not male, I experience the same “down look” from my lesser qualified male counter-parts. Maybe I am seen as a threat? Who knows how the male ego works.
    This is however a HR issue, and as long as H&S is separated from HR, which based on the article on sheqafrica, seems to be the preferred choice, this will not be addressed.

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