Sex and gender specific information
Even now most workplaces, work equipment and protection from chemicals exposures are designed on the assumption that most workers are men.
Chemical/substance exposure can harm us all but due to different biology, female and male bodies respond differently to some chemicals. Since chemicals are tested on fit, young white males they fail to take account of women, disabled people and of black and ethnic minority, older men too.
Additionally gender stereotypes and assumptions mean that there is still a lot of segregation in the workforce, with women and men tending to do different work or do jobs in different ways and so have different types and levels of exposure to toxic substances.
To ensure the health of all those in the workplace it is necessary to ensure that COSHH risk assessments take account of sex and gender issues, and that the precautionary principle is applied and collective preventions implemented to protect the most vulnerable and therefore everyone in the workplace including future generations by preventing harm to sperm, eggs and developing foetus in a working mother’s uterus.
Some of the differences between male and female workers that can result in different health effects of exposure to chemicals include:
Women have different immune systems, thinner skin, detox more slowly, are more susceptible to some chemicals and have higher fat content in which many toxic, long-lasting chemicals are soluble and stored in body. For example, women are more likely to develop autoimmune illnesses, Long Covid and are more susceptible to air pollution.
Women have a lifetime of hormonal changes – menstruation/periods, possible pregnancy and breast feeding, and then menopause – and may be more affected by chemical exposures at different times.
1 in 5 cancers are caused by workplace and environmental exposures Cancers and their work causes - Hazards magazine . In additional to general body organ cancers, men and women have different reproductive system cancers:
Women are at greater risk of breast cancer from workplace chemicals exposure and from prolonged night shifts see Hazards Magazine: and of uterine and ovarian
Men are at risk of prostate and testicular cancer
Target cancers: Cancers and their work causes - Hazards magazine
Men produce sperm continuously and the genetic material in their sperm can be harmed by exposure to mutagens which can on conception affect the development of a foetus. The number of sperm produced and male fertility is also being severely reduced by exposure to endocrine disrupting chemicals.
All the eggs women ripen each month after puberty are present when the woman is a developing foetus and so their genetic material may be affected by their mother’s toxics exposures to mutagenic and reprotoxic chemicals. This can lead to harmful effects on any foetus, plus exposure to further chemicals at work as the foetus develops can cause more harm. Such as diabetes
Gender roles and false assumptions about women’s role in life and ‘women’s work’ being lighter, safer, with minimal chemical exposures and so less harmful has meant less research on effects on women and ignores many factors such as, for example the double exposures at work and in home/environment that women cleaners may experience.
G - Gender and Sex specific information:
Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals
Breast Cancer Awareness is not enough
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