EWCS 2010 - Physical factors

Differences in exposure of men and women to physical hazards

The exposure of women and men to physical hazards differs widely, the 5th European Working Conditions Survey shows.  These gender differences have remained more or less constant over time.

Are you exposed to vibrations from tools or machinery? (q23a)

For instance, 33% of men, but only 10% of women, are regularly exposed to vibrations, while 42% of men, but 24% of women, carry heavy loads. In contrast, 13% of women, but only 5% of men, lift or move people as part of their work. However, similar proportions of men and women work in tiring positions (48% and 45% respectively), or make repetitive hand and arm movements (64% and 63% respectively) which are also the most common physical hazards.

‘This is, in part, linked to still-widespread gender segregation in many sectors. For example, the strong majority of workers in the construction sector are male whereas in the care industry, they would be women. In both sectors, physical work is being performed but it is of different nature with lifting or moving people often part of the work,’ says Agnès Parent-Thirion, head of Eurofound’s Surveys and Trends team. ‘Also within occupations working conditions sometimes vary between men and women, for example, because children interact differently with men or women, female kindergarten teachers end up lifting  children more often than their male colleagues’, she adds. From an other perspective, it is quite interesting to note that the 2 most common posture related risks are nearly as frequent for men and women.

Physical hazards as persistent as ever

European workers remain as exposed to physical hazards as they did 20 years ago, the 5th European Working Conditions Survey shows.  For instance, one in three workers (33%) carry heavy loads at least a quarter of their working time, while almost one in four (23%) are exposed to vibrations. Both these figures are unchanged since 2000.

Does your work involve tiring or painful positions? (q24a)

Although many workers in Europe still do jobs that involve physical labour, physical hazards are not confined to manual workers only. Almost one in six (16%) of workers are exposed to tiring positions (almost) all of the time, and one in three (30%) between a quarter and three quarters of the time. Moreover, repetitive hand or arm movements are a feature of work for more Europeans than 10 years ago.

‘Occupations in the expanding service sector also include physical work; for example, cashiers carry out repetitive movements most of their working time’, says Gijs van Houten, research officer at Eurofound. ‘In all occupations high work intensity might prevent workers from using personal protective equipment as well as other ergonomics devices which might have alleviated some physically demanding part of the work ’, he continues.