Do women feel safe at work?
“It really comes down to the company’s culture”
“How safe do you feel on the job?”
The nonprofit Women in Trucking Association posed this question to its members in a recent survey, asking female drivers to rate how they felt on a scale of 1 to 10.
“The average score was 4.4,” WIT President and CEO Ellen Voie said. “When I stand up in front of executives, I say, ‘How would you feel if you only felt safe half of the time you went to work? Think about that.’”
For many female workers, feeling safe – both physically and psychologically – is a major concern. Although Voie estimates that women make up 10% of over-the-road truck drivers in the United States, Injury Facts – an online statistical database from the National Safety Council – reports that, in 2020, women experienced 26.6% of the workplace injuries reported in the transportation and warehousing industry. Among all industries, women are far more likely to be victims of assault. In 2020, a woman was the target in 73.3% of all assaults reported on the job.
Employers in all industries must create “an environment where women are accepted,” said Tricia Kagerer, executive vice president of risk management for Dallas-based Jordan Foster Construction. That includes making women feel safe.
“There needs to be an intentional focus,” Kagerer said.
With thousands of WIT members on the nation’s roads each day, Voie is keenly aware of the challenges faced by women whose jobs require travel.
Security at truck stops is a high priority. Many WIT members have shared best practices such as not parking in the back of a lot, having a buddy on hand and not walking between parked trucks.
“A lot of women have told me that they will eat, shower and fuel at one truck stop and then go to the next one to sleep so that nobody knows it’s a solo female,” Voie said. Kagerer said being the only woman on a construction jobsite and traveling alone early in her career taught her to be more attentive.
“Just being aware of your environment is really important,” she said. “I’ve checked into a hotel that wasn’t in the area that I thought it was. Instead of being nice and accommodating, I got my stuff and moved to a safer place. My gut and my intuition were telling me, ‘You don’t want to stay here.’ Women need to listen to our intuition.”
For many women in the workforce, ill-fitting personal protective equipment is a big problem – as it has been for decades.
Rather than provide proper-fitting women’s sizes, Nicole Randall said, some employers simply offer smaller men’s sizes.
“Unfortunately, that just assumes all women are petite,” said Randall, director of marketing and external affairs at the International Safety Equipment Association. “People fall into all ranges and sizes. Available PPE should reflect that reality.”
PPE for women has come a long way, according to Voie, who mentioned several women-owned manufacturing companies that produce, among other items, vests, boots and high-visibility garments.
“Manufacturers have started to produce a lot more PPE that is designed to fit the female face, hand and body,” Randall said. “It has to fit properly so that it can effectively protect the employee from the hazard for which it was designed.” Improper PPE can take a toll on female workers’ mental health, Randall noted.
“How can she trust her employer if the proper PPE isn’t provided?” she asked. “If an employee doesn’t feel welcome, then retention becomes an issue.
“As employers provide the necessary resources, I think they’ll begin to see more satisfaction in the workplace.”