Worker health and safety: Gender differences in exposure patterns

Occupational health research should take the behavioral differences between men and women in the same field into account, a survey conducted by the Centre for Public Health Research of Massey University in New Zealand suggests.

A paper authored by Amanda Engl and several co-authors outlines the gender differences in occupational exposure patterns. The researchers surveyed men and women aged 20 to 64 years that were randomly selected from the electoral roll.

The participants revealed self-reported occupational exposure to specific dusts and chemicals, physical exposures and organizational factors.

The survey showed that overall, male workers were two to four times more likely to report exposure to dust and chemical substances, loud noise, irregular hours, night shifts and vibrating tools.

Women were 30 percent more likely to report repetitive tasks and working at high speed, and they were more likely to report exposure to disinfectants, hair dyes and textile dust.

Within the same occupation, gender differences were less apparent, but male workers were still more likely to report exposure to welding fumes, herbicides, wood dust, solvents, tools that vibrate, irregular hours and night-shift work.

Women remained more likely to report repetitive tasks and working at high speed, and in addition were more likely to report awkward or tiring positions compared with men with the same occupation.

This population-based study showed substantial differences in occupational exposure patterns between men and women, even within the same occupation. Thus, the influence of gender should not be overlooked in occupational health research, the authors concluded.

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