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Oct 17, 2014

IWH to study gender, sex differences in workplace injuries

By Amanda Silliker
The Institute for Work & Health is launching a five-year study on the differences between men and women when it comes workplace injury risk, injury recovery and chronic disease.
Although women make up nearly one-half of the labour force, much of what we know about the effect of work on health is based on research involving men or male-dominated workplaces. This new research program, led by IWH scientist Peter Smith, aims to address this imbalance.   

“It’s one thing to identify where men and women differ in the relationship between work exposures and health outcomes, but we also need to start including in our study hypotheses if we think these differences are due to biological or social factors or a combination of both,” said Smith. “We also need to examine these relationships with the appropriate quantitative methods.” 

Smith was awarded one of nine research chairs in gender, work and health funded by the Institute of Gender and Health at the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.
 
His research program has three major themes: 

•The psychosocial work environment and risk of chronic disease.

•Workplace injury in Canada: links between gender/sex and occupational health and safety vulnerability

•The consequences of work injury.  

At a session on Oct. 14 in Toronto, Smith discussed the previous research that has shown how men and women differ when it comes to injuries in the workplace.  

For example, overall, men have double the rate of workplace injuries than women. But when you drill down to the specifics, women are slightly more likely to have repetitive movement injuries, for example.  

Women are also more likely to be injured during shift work than men. And women take longer to return to work following an injury.  

Other studies have found low job control is associated with hypertension for men, but not women, and it is associated with an increased risk of diabetes for women, but not men.
 
But why do these differences exist? 

Smith and his team will look at the gender/sex differences in the association between the work environment, work stress and life stress. They will also look at gender/sex differences in the relationship between work and health behaviour, body mass index (BMI) and cardiovascular disease.
 
The research will hopefully help employers determine the differences and similarities between men and women in the workplace, and how to use this information to prevent work injuries.  

“There’s also some pretty bleak pictures for men relative to women (and) I think in particular around bullying or mental health, they manifest very different challenges to women,” said Smith. “It’s really important to understand ‘Would a universal approach work?’”