WORKING WOMEN FACE HIGH RISKS
FROM WORK STRESS, MUSCULOSKELETAL
INJURIES, OTHER DISORDERS
compose an increasingly large proportion of the U.S. work force. They also face
high risk from job-related stress, musculoskeletal injuries, violence, and other
hazards of the modern workplace, new reports by the National Institute for
Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) conclude. In many respects, the risks are
higher than those for male workers.
researchers describe their findings in two articles and an editorial in the
Spring 2000 issue of The Journal of the American Medical Women's Association.
The editorial pro-vides an overview of occupational health and safety hazards
for working women. One of the articles addresses work stress and women. The
other article, co-written by authors from NIOSH and two other organizations,
examines health and safety concerns for working women in construction.
factors heighten certain risks of work-related injury, illness, and death for
female workers," said NIOSH Director Linda Rosenstock, M.D., M.P.H.
"It is important to recognize these hazards and to keep all workers, women
and men alike, safe on the job."
currently make up almost half of the general U.S. work force. In the growing
health care industry, where a complex range of hazards exists, including latex
allergy, back injuries, and needle-stick injuries, about 80 percent of the work
force is female.
women are moving into occupations once held exclusively by men, such as the
construction trades. In such instances, physiological differences between women
and men can translate into occupational hazards, as when women operate equipment
designed for male workers of larger stature.
are at disproportionately high risk for musculoskeletal injuries on the job,
suffering 63 percent of all work-related repetitive motion injuries. Hazards
such as radiation, glycol ethers, lead, and strenuous physical labor can affect
a woman's reproductive health, including pregnancy outcomes. Violence is also a
special concern for women workers. Homicide is the leading cause of job-related
death for women, and women also are at increased risk of non-fatal assault.
The NIOSH article "Working Women and Stress" finds that:
Gender-specific work stress factors, such as sex discrimination and balancing work and family demands, may have an effect on women workers above and beyond the impact of general job stressors such as job overload and skill under-utilization.
Discriminatory barriers to financial and career advancement have been linked to more frequent physical and psycho-logical symptoms and more frequent visits to the doctor.
The most effective way of reducing work stress is through organizational change in the work-place. This holds true for reducing work stress in female and male workers alike. Workplaces that actively discourage sexual discrimination and harassment, and promote family-friendly policies, appear to foster worker loyalty and attachment regardless of gender, studies indicate. Organizational changes effective for reducing job stress among women workers include expanding promotion and career ladders, introducing family-support programs and policies, and enforcing policies against sex discrimination and sexual harassment.
The article "Women in Construction: Occupational Health and Working Conditions," finds that:
Women may receive less on-the-job safety mentoring than men from supervisors and co-workers. This can create a potentially dangerous cycle in which trades-women are asked to do jobs for which they are not properly trained, and then are injured when they do them or are seen as incompetent when they are unable to do them.
Women in construction have reported harassment and verbal abuse by co-workers and isolation on the job severe enough that some women have looked for other employment.
Patterns of work-related construction fatalities differ for men and women. For example, women construction laborers are at higher risk than male laborers of death from motor vehicle injuries, but less likely to be at risk of death from falls, machinery related injuries, or being struck by objects. Further research is needed to determine why these differences exist.
Further information on job-related stress appears in a NIOSH document, "Stress ... At Work," DHHS (NIOSH) Publication 99-101, issued in 1999. Additional information on protecting the health and safety of women in construction appears in another NIOSH document, "Providing Safety and Health Protection for a Diverse Construction Workforce: Issues and Ideas," DHHS (NIOSH) Publication No. 99-140. For copies of those documents or for other informa-tion on the health and safety of working women, call the toll-free NIOSH information number, 1-800-35-NIOSH (1-800-356-4674), or visit NIOSH on the World Wide Web at www.cdc.gov/niosh.
The Regentsí Training Center has many excellent videos and other resource materials available on a variety of subjects. Videos include those on ergonomics that addresses musculoskeletal problems and video display terminal stress. Other videos cover subjects such safe lifting techniques, minimizing back strain, accident causes and prevention, and fall prevention. These videos and other resource materials are available free of charge from the Regentsí Training Center. Contact the training center at (405) 325-8069 for more information.