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Women in Health and Safety

To celebrate International Women’s Day, we take a look at some influential women who have impacted occupational health and safety over the years.

Origin of International Women’s Day

Since the early 1900’s individuals around the world have come together in the month of March to celebrate women and the contributions they have made in society.

Theories have suggested that this recognition of women stemmed from rising tension following a tragic fire that happened in a clothing factory in New York. 123 women lost their lives in the blaze, a majority of them between the ages of 14-23.

The fire highlighted that the safety of women was in no way as prioritised as their male counterparts. It was discovered that there were many safety regulations that had been breached and the tragedy sparked a national outrage leading to major changes in health and safety legislation and factory safety standards.

The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire helped propel the women-led movement to advance worker rights and improve upon safety and equality in the workplace.

Women in Health and Safety

Today, women make up a much smaller percentage in the Health and Safety industry than men comparatively. In annual surveys conducted by the Safety+Health magazine, women consistently make up less than 30% of respondents.

Despite this, there are women who have done a considerable amount for safety regulations across the world both recently and historically.

May Abraham and Mary Paterson

Abraham and Paterson were the first women to be appointment factory inspectors after years of campaigning by several women’s groups. Despite poor working conditions in the 1800’s largely affecting women and children, the Factory Inspectorate formed in 1833 only hired male inspectors for the first 60 years. Much of Abraham and Paterson’s early work involved enforcing the Truck Acts, investigating women’s working hours and enforcing health and safety in laundries.

Frances Perkins

Frances Perkins was an American sociologist and workers-rights advocate who served as the U.S. Secretary of Labor from 1933 – 1945. She was the longest serving in the position and the first woman to be appointed to the U.S. Cabinet.

Perkins spent her time fighting for workers rights, a reduction in workplace accidents and helped craft laws against child labour. Perkins was ultimately responsible for a considerable amount of change to law and regulation. Some of the changes she brought about include;

  • The introduction of unemployment benefits
  • The introduction of pensions
  • Establishment of the first minimum wage
  • The forty-four hour work week
  • Formation of government policy for working with labour unions


Elizabeth Dole

U.S Senate Elizabeth Dole is an American politician. During her time working as both U.S Transportation Secretary and U.S. Labour Secretary, Dole focused on improving public safety and workplace safety and health. During the ’90s, Dole worked on a number of OSHA reforms to better protect Americans from workplace injuries and illness. Her dedication to road safety, in particular, led to regulations requiring automatic safety belts and airbags in cars, saving hundreds of lives each year.

Winnie Schubert

Winnie Shubert of Exxon Mobile encouraged and supported a number of women in Chad and Iraq to consider their futures and take considerable steps to advance the wellbeing of their families. Winnie helped these women to develop skills in basic safety practices within the home and the workplace many of which were not initiated beforehand.

Louise Taggart

Louise Taggart is a speaker and campaigner, travelling across the UK to educate others on the importance of good health and safety practices. Louise speaks to organisations, at conferences, unions and many other outlets to drive home the vital importance of establishing good practices, following processes and engaging with the workforce.



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