The type of occupational hazards that men and women are exposed to vary, even if the workplace is the same, according to a recent study.
These findings suggest that occupational health research should take the difference in occupational exposures between men and women into account. Women's work has traditionally been considered safe and less hazardous to health in comparison with men's work. Most of our knowledge of occupational health has mainly been based on studies of men. Occupational hazards for women workers remained blurred.
AdvertisementGender differences in occupational distribution that is, men and women working in different jobs and therefore being exposed to different risk factors, were overlooked by most of the studies. Even in the same occupation, men and women are not equally exposed to similar risk factors for disease.
Throughout the industrialised world, women are more likely to work as professionals (especially in health and education), service and sales workers, and clerks. These jobs typically involve fast-paced and repetitive work tasks. Men are more likely to work in the agricultural, trades and manufacturing sectors. These jobs are typically characterised by exposure to dusts and chemicals, and to physically demanding tasks such as heavy lifting.
A survey conducted by the Centre for Public Health Research of Massey University in New Zealand studied the gender differences in occupational exposure patterns. Men and women aged 20 to 64 years were randomly selected from the electoral roll and invited to take part in a telephone interview. Information on self-reported occupational exposure to specific dusts and chemicals, physical and organisational factors were collected.
Overall, male workers were two to four times more likely to report exposure to dust and chemical substances. They were also exposed more often to loud noise, irregular hours, night shifts and vibrating tools. Women were more likely to report repetitive tasks and working at high speed and more likely to be exposed to disinfectants, hair dyes and textile dust.
Gender differences were less apparent within the same occupation; however, males remained significantly more likely to report exposure to welding fumes, herbicides, wood dust, solvents, tools that vibrate, irregular hours and night-shift work. Awkward or tiring positions during work were reported more by women.
The authors of the study note that, understanding gender differences in occupational exposure, both between and within occupations, is a necessary first step towards understanding gender differences in occupational morbidity. The influence of gender should not be overlooked in occupational health research, they concluded.
Reference: Gender Differences in Occupational Exposure Patterns; Amanda et al; Occupational and Environmental Medicine 2011.