Virtually everyone has heard of NASA’s all-female spacewalk that didn’t actually happen. NASA called off this historic event because it didn’t have two spacesuits to fit both women. In the days following NASA’s announcement, many raised questions about how this could have happened; the truth is likely those in charge of preparing suits did not think about the need for smaller suits in a space program that is no longer exclusively male. While most employers aren’t going to run into the problem of not having an appropriately sized spacesuit, inadequate personal protective equipment (PPE) for women and other gender-bias related issues can create real safety issues for companies in the mining and construction industries.
Employers must be aware of the changing enforcement landscape concerning gender bias and can take several steps to avoid safety violations specifically arising from gender issues:
- Train employees on appropriate interactions in the workplace and pay attention to workplace interactions to ensure no one is experiencing harassment or being made uncomfortable.
- Encourage employees to ask for help when working on something potentially hazardous.
- Maintain clean, sanitary bathroom facilities in adequate numbers and for both men and women.
- Provide PPE that fits each employee including coveralls, boots, gloves, hardhats, and anything else that might require different sizing.
In addition to ensuring the workplace is safe, these steps also improve morale and help avoid the various lawsuits and charges which arise when employees feel that males and females are treated differently.