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‘Green-collar’ workers have unique profile

Emerging labour force includes jobs that increase sustainability, reduce waste
By Anne Harding
| hrreporter.com
Green Collar
Installers place solar panels on the roof of a residential home in San Diego, Calif., Oct. 14, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Blake

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) — “Green-collar” workers in the United States have a distinct demographic profile, and their on-the-job risks are unique, according to three new studies of this emerging labour force.

“We’ve never been able to classify this group before,” Dr. Alberto Caban-Martinez of the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, who led all three studies, told Reuters Health by telephone. He and his colleagues define green jobs as those that increase sustainability and reduce waste, energy use, and pollution. These may be new jobs, or existing jobs that have been “greened.”

“Green-collar” work got a big boost with the Green Jobs Act of 2007, which set aside up to $125 million in federal funds for training and job growth in green industries. But despite the environmental friendliness of green-collar work, the newness of the field means that these workers may face unforeseen risks, Dr. Caban-Martinez notes.

To better understand who green-collar workers are and the occupational exposures involved in green-collar labour, he and his colleagues analyzed linked data from the U.S. National Health Interview Surveys (NHIS) and Occupational Information Network (O*NET) for 2004 to 2012. They report their findings in two studies in the May issue of the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (JOEM), and in a third published online May 17 in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine (AJIM).

In one JOEM study, Dr. Caban-Martinez and his team estimate that about 20 per cent of the U.S. workforce, or more than 26 million workers, have jobs that involve at least one green task. These workers were more likely to be male than those in non-green jobs (76% vs. 48%) and to work in the private sector (84% vs. 73%). Green-collar workers were also more likely to be obese, hearing-impaired, and to have a high school education or less, whereas they were less likely to be non-white and to work for small companies or government.

The second JOEM study compared exposures to vapours, gas, dust and fumes (VGDF), second-hand smoke, skin hazards, and outdoor work in green collar and non-green-collar jobs. Exposure to VGDF was actually higher for green-collar workers, the researchers found (adjusted odds ratio 1.25), and they were more likely to do outdoor work (aOR 1.44). Green collar workers had less exposure to chemicals (aOR 0.8) than their non-green-collar counterparts.

In the AJIM study, Dr. Caban-Martinez and his colleagues found a slightly but significantly higher prevalence of acute joint pain in green collar workers (26.5% vs. 25.7%). However, 42.6% of workers 65 or older with non-green-collar jobs had acute joint pain, compared with 38.3% of older green-collar workers.

“It is possible that individuals employed in green collar occupations are using more upper-body muscle strength to meet their evolving or new job demands,” the researchers suggest. In contrast, they note, the prevalence of lower-extremity joint pain was higher among the non-green-collar workers.

“Despite the differences in site-specific acute joint pain observed in our study, the heterogeneity in physical demands and job tasks for both the green and non-green-collar workforces suggests that further research is needed to characterize which occupational demands, ergonomic hazards, and other environmental exposures specific to green collar workers predispose them to develop musculoskeletal pain in upper-body versus lower-body locations,” they conclude.

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