Issues for Action: Health and Safety for Mobile Women Workers
- Injury from repetitive housekeeping work – a gendered issue (Anne)
- Providing ‘nurturing’ care as camp staff can take its mental health toll
- Specific gender-related OHS issues (jiggling around in a truck to harassment on the worksite or in camp)
Health and safety issues for mobile workers have a gendered component, i.e., they can affect women differently than men. These issues are related to stratifications in the labour market (which kinds of mobile work tend to male or female dominated), to experiences in masculinized work cultures and environments, and to direct bodily impacts of mobile work.
In general, the Canadian healthcare and occupational health and safety systems are not well designed to meet the needs of people who work and live in different provinces or territories (see, for example, Anne’s story): people wait for weeks or months to receive care until they are back home, and employers and local communities are not necessarily equipped to provide full medical support to migrant workers.
Against this backdrop we encounter health and safety issues that affect women differently than men. Such issues are often invisibilized by male-centered workplace cultures and/or by the kind of work more often done by women in those contexts (such as housekeeping in a work camp).
One such issue is harassment or abuse in the workplace or in work camps. In 2018, Alberta’s Occupational Health and Safety Act was revised to require employers to “establish and implement harassment and violence prevention plans.” Women in work camps and in oil sands worksites regularly report both subtle and overt forms of harassment based on their gender. These are exacerbated by the isolation of mobile work camp living. It is also not clear whether and how work camps falls under the umbrella of OHS, even when camp dwelling is a required part of mobile work.
Other health and safety problems have to do with the kinds of jobs that mobile women workers do – jobs that entail daily micro-mobilities. Housekeeping, for example, is a form of “feminized” labour in which women and people of colour are highly overrepresented. In work camps, housekeeping is often done by long-distance commuters who each day move around in small spaces performing difficult physical labour. Those same women often end up providing unpaid emotional labour, given the isolation and loneliness people encounter in camp. For another example, women who drive the huge heavy hauler trucks that move overburden and bitumen around extraction sites encounter physical problems their male counterparts do not (e.g. the pain of bouncing around a cab for twelve hours straight while menstruating).
Provincial guidelines, workplace safety protocols, and employer policies need to better take into account healthcare and health and safety issues across jurisdictional boundaries, as well as the kinds of work done by mobile women.
- Alberta Occupational Health and Safety Act (2018 revisions): https://www.alberta.ca/assets/documents/ohs-changes-highlights.pdf
- Women in Occupational Health and Safety Society: https://wohss.com/
- Alberta Workers’ Health Centre: http://www.workershealthcentre.ca/
- Safety and Health of Women at Work: https://osha.europa.eu/en/tools-and-publications/publications/reports/new-risks-and-trends-in-the-safety-and-health-of-women-at-work
- Women and Workplace Health – Injured Workers Online: https://injuredworkersonline.org/women-and-workplace-health/
- Health and Safety – Canadian Labour Congress: https://canadianlabour.ca/issues/workplace-health-safety/
- Increased integration of gender-specific and gender-sensitive health and safety issues into government and employer policies.
- Increased integration of gender-specific and gender-sensitive health and safety training into workplace OHS training, prevention, and monitoring. This includes both highly feminized and highly masculinized types of work involving forms of mobility. For example, morning “toolbox talks” in work camps and at project worksites could regularly integrate a program of learning about racist and sexist forms of harassment as well as physical unsafety.
- Inclusion of explicit rules about consequences for harassment and discrimination in work camp policies.
- Required review of health and safety equipment, practices, and impacts at mobile worksites to ensure accommodation of women’s OHS.
- Broader representation of women as well as diverse racial and cultural groups in the occupational health and safety profession.