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.
Gender 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
. Even in the
same occupation, men and women are not equally exposed to similar risk factors
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
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.
Gender Differences in Occupational
Exposure Patterns; Amanda et al; Occupational and Environmental Medicine 2011.