Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Women in services

Besides agriculture, services are one of the main working sectors for women. The ILO estimates that 47 per cent of employed women worldwide work in services47 such as health care, retail and education. Women in typical female professions, like hairdressers, nurses and cleaners, are among the most exposed in this sector. The material they use such as medical devices, shampoo, etc. are mainly chosen and purchased by the companies they work for. Often the employers and the employees have little to no knowledge about the substances in the products they use, since they are rarely labelled, ingredients are not disclosed or specific trainings are not in place.

Women in the health sector
 Nurses are exposed constantly to toxins in disinfectants and stylizing agents, additionally they can be in contact with hazardous chemicals in medical devices, chemotherapy, pesticides, and other tools and materials. This exposure can lead to serious health problems. Common chemicals to which women in the health sector are exposed to are: BPA, PVC, triclosan, PBDE, phthalates, perfluorinated compounds and mercury. All of those chemicals can be found in blood, urine and hair samples of female nurses and doctors.48 Nurses report that the four common exposures are hand and skin disinfectants, medications, housekeeping chemicals and latex.49 Studies show that among nursing professionals, workplace exposures to cleaning products and disinfectants increase the risk of new-onset asthma.50 A two-fold increased risk of late spontaneous abortion (12-20 weeks) among nurses was associated with exposure to sterilizing agents.51 In the US, nurses teamed up to demand better chemicals regulation protecting them from harmful chemicals.52 Several projects and activities from civil society and trade unions try to achieve the same goal. The NGO Health Care Without Harm (HCWH) runs several campaigns and projects to make health care greener and healthier for professionals and patients.53

Women as hairdressers 
Hairdressers are exposed to harmful substances in a number of products like hair dyes, bleaching agents, permanent waves solutions, hair shampoos and conditioners, hair spray and perfumes. Common substances found in those products are: ammonia and ammonia derivatives, formaldehyde releasers, allergens, acrylate copolymers in aerosol-form products, and EDCs such as parabens and UV-filters. Hair dyes typically contain the highest number of harmful substances. Studies show that respiratory and dermatological diseases are particularly common for hairdressers.54 A UK study investigated 60 hairdressing salons and noted that over a third of the respondents had hand dermatitis.55 Exposure to chemicals in indoor air is increased because usually more than one hairdresser operates in the same room, and sufficient ventilation systems are rarely in place. Therefore hairdressers have a higher risk of chronic bronchitis, asthma-like symptoms, rhinitis combined with irritative eye symptoms than control groups.56 A study of pregnant women in France found that on-the-job exposure to chemical solvents during pregnancy increased the risk of certain types of birth defects. Mothers with more exposure were 4 to 12 times more likely to have babies with oral clefts than mothers with less exposure. Metabolites of two large classes of organic solvents, glycol ethers and chlorinated solvents, were linked to occupational use of cleaners and cosmetics in jobs such as hairdressing, pharmacy and nursing.57 To decrease the exposure of hairdressers, urgent action is required such as procurement of non-harmful products, sufficient labelling of products, training of employees, better ventilation systems, and stricter laws.

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