It would not surprise most people to know that OSHA does not have a specific standard governing sexual harassment in the workplace. However, is there a link between sexual harassment and workplace safety and health issues? Yes. For example, sexual harassment could lead to increased stress for the victim which could manifest itself in a number of physical and mental ways. If the victim is employed in a safety-sensitive position, this might also compromise the employee’s ability to perform the job safely. Sexual harassment could make victims less likely to report legitimate safety issues or to report accidents particularly if the harasser is part of the reporting process. Of course, if sexual harassment includes actual or threatened physical conduct, we move into potential workplace violence issues.
Furthermore, although not a strict sexual harassment issue, OSHA has recognized that women in certain industries sometimes have unique safety and health issues. For example, OSHA has a webpage dedicated to women working in construction which can be accessed at https://www.osha.gov/doc/topics/women/index.html. In addition, an OSHA Advisory Committee published a Study and Recommendation (“Study”) in 1999 called, “Women in the Construction Workplace: Providing Equitable Safety and Health Protection.” A copy can be accessed at https://www.osha.gov/doc/accsh/haswicformal.html.
The Study is divided into seven areas where distinct safety and health issues for women have been identified in construction: workplace culture, sanitary facilities, personal protective equipment, ergonomics, reproductive hazards, health and safety training, and injury and illness data and research. The Study concludes with certain recommendations in each of these areas. Although the Study is now almost twenty years ago, it remains a good reminder that effective safety and health programs may need to consider gender depending on the work environment.