Creating workplaces where we all watch out for each other

Creating workplaces where we all watch out for each other


‘Listen to understand’: DOL hosts conversation on gender-based violence in construction

Photo: Missouri Department of Transportation Flickr

Washington — The worst part of Shamaiah Turner’s job as a sheet metal worker hasn’t been the physical aspects, but instead “working with people who made me feel socially unsafe.”

During her 12 years in the construction industry, Turner has lifted heavy materials, worked regularly at height and run heavy machinery – all without a problem, she says.

“Construction is inherently dangerous, so if I’m walking around having to consider other hostile co-workers or having to ward off the person that’s been hitting on me, then my attention is divided. That leaves me and a lot of other people vulnerable.”

Turner was a guest during a March 5 webinar on gender-based violence and harassment in the construction industry, hosted by the Department of Labor Women’s Bureau and OSHA.

Women’s Bureau Director Wendy Chun-Hoon noted that a male-dominated culture in construction can create greater risks for gender-based violence and harassment, which is “a range of unacceptable behaviors, practices or threats directed at persons because of their sex or gender.”

Such behaviors can include sexual harassment, domestic violence, bullying, dating violence, stalking, trafficking, threats, manipulation and coercion. Any of these can create a major barrier to recruitment and retention in construction, Chun-Hoon said.

“Making our workplaces safer is really everyone’s job,” she added.

Alison Stanton, vice president of community and citizenship at Turner Construction in Boston, emphasized that safety professionals and leaders in construction must make a sincere effort to understand the issues workers are facing.

“The most important thing that everyone can do is listen,” Stanton said. “From your own chair, listen to understand what some of these experiences are that tradeswomen are going through and try to act from where you sit in order to help them and support them.”

Amy James Neel spent more than 25 years as a carpenter and now serves as workforce and contracting equity manager in the planning and capital construction department at Portland Community College in Oregon.

“I loved being a carpenter,” Neel said. “What I did not love was people’s behavior.” This included bullying, hazing, exclusion and isolation. “These are behaviors that have no place in a professional environment.”

In her current role, Neel said leaders of construction projects at the college ensure psychological safety is just as important as physical safety and include trainings, toolbox talks and repercussions for violations.

“Workers under duress are not safe,” she said. “Addressing incivility becomes the standard and is replicable the same way physical safety is.”

Turner credited her labor union – the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers – for promoting mentorship and solidarity across its membership with the “I Got Your Back” campaign; gender-neutral language in its constitution; strong penalties for bullying, harassment and hazing; and numerous resources to help recruit, retain and advance women and other underrepresented groups.

“They really stepped up,” she said. “I know that having a large network of support is what saved me.”

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Original article published by Safety+Health an NSC publication