Sexual Harassment is a Health and Safety Risk – STUC Women’s Committee

The STUC Women’s Committee has labelled sexual harassment at work as “a form of violence and assault” as the trade union body wrote to the Health and Safety Executive calling on them to regulate sexual harassment as a serious health and safety risk.

In a letter, co-signed by Scottish Hazards and Scotland’s feminist membership organisation Engender, the bodies have cited their concerns that the HSE is neglecting the impact of abuse within the workplace, viewing and treating sexual harassment simply as an equality issue rather than recognising the trauma and occupational distress caused from harassment.

The letter comes today on International Women’s Day with previous STUC and Engender research showing the “endemic” scale of sexual harassment within the workplace, leading to increased distress, anxiety and damaging consequences for victims at the hands of workplace perpetrators.

Launched last year, the STUC report: ‘Silence is Compliance’ revealed 45% of women had experienced sexual harassment at work with 85% of women saying that their experience was not taken seriously or handled appropriately.

Commenting, STUC General Secretary Roz Foyer said:

“Sexual harassment at work is an internationally recognised form of violence against women. Research from the STUC and Engender makes clear that experiencing sexual harassment can lead to ill health, occupational stress and anxiety all impacting on survivors with little repercussions for perpetrators.

“That’s precisely why our letter implores the Health and Safety Executive to take seriously their reporting and categorisation of sexual harassment as a serious health and safety issue.

“Workers across the country cannot be left in the lurch whilst statutory bodies pass the buck on who is responsible for protecting them from violence in the workplace. Women deserve to be protected and respected in their work and no employer is exempt until sexual harassment is eliminated entirely from their spaces.

Andrea Bradley, STUC Women’s Committee Chair:

“On International Women’s Day, it’s precisely the time for bodies – such as the Health and Safety Executive – to step up to the plate and protect women workers in particular from the endemic levels of sexual harassment in the workplace.

“Sexual harassment is a complete violation of the right to feel safe at work. Women across the country are making clear that they need stronger protection from violence whilst at their work.  

“It’s simply not good enough for employers to fail to have a coherent set of standards when it comes to preventing and reporting sexual harassment.  The HSE must do more to ensure women have workplaces free from violence and harassment.

Engender Executive Director Catherine Murphy:

“There is a huge amount of research that tells us that sexual harassment is endemic in Scotland’s workplaces.

“The Health Safety Executive have previously recognized that harassment can cause physical and psychological harms for those experiencing or even witnessing it. We are at a loss as to why it does not consider sexual harassment, that overwhelmingly impacts women, to fall within its remit.

“Women across different sectors have told us that they don’t have confidence in their employer’s ability to prevent, or effectively respond to sexual harassment. They fear retaliation, being blamed, or negative impacts on their career and relationships at work. Employers in Scotland currently are failing women when it comes to sexual harassment and the Health and Safety Executive need to act on this urgently.”

The PDA is a proud member of the Scottish TUC and supports this campaign. President of the National Association of Women Pharmacists, Ayah Abbass added:

Sexual harassment cannot be acceptable in any environment, and nobody should be placed at risk of this type of violence from co-workers, managers or others. 

The workplace should be a safe space where every worker can focus on doing their job, not have to consider daily how they avoid becoming a victim of sexual harassment.

We would like to see all pharmacy employers, including the NHS, endorse this approach and take positive action to remove this avoidable health & safety risk from their workplaces.

Source: PDA – National Association of Women Pharmacists