NIOSH Highlights Women's Safety, Health Issues at Work

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health recently issued a fact sheet containing information on women and\r\nthe hazards they may face in the workplace.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) recently issued a fact sheet containing information on working women, the hazards they may face and NIOSH research in areas of particular concern to women.

Women currently comprise 46 percent of the 137 million workers in the United States, with their share of the labor force projected to reach 48 percent by 2008, according to NIOSH.

Of employed women, 40 percent held technical, sales and administrative support positions; 32 percent worked in managerial and professional specialties; and 17 percent worked in service occupations in 1999.

According to the NIOSH fact sheet, sprains and strains, carpal tunnel syndrome, tendonitis and other musculoskeletal disorders account for more than half (52 percent) of the injuries and illnesses suffered by female workers, as compared to 45 percent for male workers.

NIOSH said further research is needed to determine the factors that place women at greater risk for musculoskeletal disorders. NIOSH is conducting research on musculoskeletal disorders among women in the telecommunication, health care, service and data entry industries.

In a study relating to musculoskeletal disorders, NIOSH worked with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to examine interventions for reducing discomfort among IRS data transcribers.

They found that periodic rest breaks throughout the work shift reduced musculoskeletal discomfort, while allowing workers to maintain job performance.

NIOSH noted that stress at work is a growing problem for all workers, including women.

In one survey, 60 percent of employed women cited stress as their number one problem at work. Furthermore, levels of stress-related illness are nearly twice as high for women as for men.

Job stress has been linked with cardiovascular disease, musculoskeletal disorders, depression and burnout. NIOSH is currently conducting studies to identify workplace factors that are particularly stressful to women, and potential prevention measures.

The NIOSH fact sheet also takes a look at reproductive hazards -- a particular concern for women -- since three-quarters of women of reproductive age are in the workforce.

NIOSH conducts both basic research and population-based studies to learn whether women may be at risk for reproductive health hazards related to their work environment.

The following are examples of NIOSH related research on reproductive hazards:

  • NIOSH found no association between video display terminals (VDTs) and miscarriages, low birth-weights in newborns or pre-term deliveries.
  • NIOSH is working with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to determine if exposure to cosmic ionizing radiation or circadian rhythm disruption increases the risk for adverse reproductive outcomes among female flight attendants.

The fact sheet highlights violence in the workplace and notes that homicide is the leading cause of injury death for women in the workplace.

Homicide accounts for 40 percent of all workplace death among female workers.

More than 25 percent of female victims of workplace homicide are assaulted by people they know (coworkers, customers, spouses or friends). Domestic violence incidents that spill into the workplace account for 16 percent of female victims of job-related homicides, according to NIOSH.

To read the complete fact sheet with more information on female safety and health issues at work, visit the NIOSH Web site at

by Virginia Sutcliffe

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