Study analysed work-related injuries and health problems among G21 women

  • Date 30 June 2021
  • Category Cohorts

The Instituto de Saúde Pública da Universidade do Porto (ISPUP) assessed the prevalence of work-related injuries and health problems in a sample of mothers from the Generation XXI cohort and concluded that almost a quarter of these women have suffered at least one work-related injury during their working lives and that one third of them had already suffered from a health problem caused by work. Musculoskeletal and mental illnesses are the work-related health problems that affect these mothers the most.

These findings are the result of two studies carried out by ISPUP researchers to understand the prevalence of work-related injuries and health problems among mothers in the Generation XXI cohort – an ISPUP longitudinal study that has, since 2005, followed around 8600 participants who were born in public maternity hospitals in the Metropolitan Area of Porto, while also following their mothers and other family members.

“We decided to take advantage of the richness that a cohort of this size brings by studying the work-related injuries and health problems reported in a sample of women from the northern region of Portugal,” indicates researcher Joana Amaro, first author of both papers, coordinated by ISPUP researcher Raquel Lucas.

“Usually, publications on labour problems focus on a particular sector of activity or professional group, or even on official statistics. Because of this, we need studies that also focus on workers’ testimonies and in particular on women, since they more often present atypical labour bonds, which often times escape official statistics of work-related injuries and health problems“, adds Joana Amaro.

More than 4 thousand women studied

More than 4,000 women were studied. The mothers’ work characteristics were analysed as well as individual aspects such as marital status, household income and body mass index. A questionnaire was used to characterise the type of injuries these women had suffered due to work-related accidents and the work-related health problems they had experienced since starting their work life. The researchers also sought to identify how work-related health problems clustered together.

Almost 22% of mothers have had at least one injury resulting from a work-related accident

In the first investigation, named Work-life prevalence of self-reported occupational injuries in mothers of a birth cohort, published in the International Journal of Occupational Safety and Ergonomics, the authors concluded that almost 22% of the mothers analysed had suffered at least one injury resulting from a work-related accident during their working life, and that almost 10% had suffered more than one injury during their lifetime.

5% had an injury in the last 12 months. The most frequent injuries were wounds and superficial injuries, followed by dislocations, sprains and strains.

Women with more typically manual occupations, such as agricultural labour, fishing, industrial, craftsmanship, machine operators and unskilled labourers, suffered the most work-related injuries.

Mothers in the cohort with a lifetime history of injury were also at greater risk of developing work-related (non-traumatic) health problems. In addition, these women also live with a partner who has suffered some kind of work-related injury, which may be a burden on the household in various aspects.

It should be noted that the women who smoked, were obese, and reported worse sleeping habits, were the ones who suffered the most damage in the work context.

Musculoskeletal and mental problems affect mothers the most

In the second study, published in WORK: A Journal of Prevention, Assessment & Rehabilitation, entitled History of work-related health problems in a population-based sample of women: An exploratory factor analysis, it was found that a third of mothers (31.5%) of Generation XXI cohort reported having had at least one work-related health problem since the beginning of their working life.

The musculoskeletal disorders group, where problems related to the back, upper limbs and neck, and lower limbs were included, was the most reported group of occupational health problems (about 40%). Women with these health problems are usually linked to more manual and physically demanding occupations and also report more accidents at work. Further, they have a lower level of education, a higher body mass index and are more likely to be smokers.

In addition to musculoskeletal disorders, psychological problems, including stress, depression, anxiety and other mental pathologies, were grouped with headaches and visual fatigue, and were also very common in the sample (38.2%). The women most affected by this group of problems have a higher education, higher incomes, and less manual jobs, with positions of greater responsibility and leadership.

Looking only at mental illness, it was observed that this affects 21.3% of the women of Generation XXI cohort. According to Joana Amaro, “this result is interesting given that, in official statistics, psychological problems do not appear, as there are few countries which recognise them as occupational illnesses, or in other words, illnesses caused by work”.

In addition, groups of occupational illnesses related to digestive, kidney, stomach and liver problems; respiratory or lung-related diseases; and hearing problems were also identified.

The impact of occupational injuries and illnesses on the household

For Joana Amaro, “it is important to approach the consequences of work-related injuries and illnesses from a broader perspective, considering the impact they can have on the family and in society”.

“We realized, through these studies, that the highest probability of injury and the highest prevalence of occupational health problems occurs in mothers with lower education, more undifferentiated professions, and who live with a partner who also shares a high risk of work-related injury or of developing a work-related health problem. Furthermore, we know that both injuries and work-related health problems are associated with more work absences and loss of income, which translates into damaging consequences both financially and in terms of work life, not only for the individual but also for the family unit”, she concludes.

Researchers Ana Catarina Queiroga, João Amaro and Ingrid Sivesind Mehlum also participated in the first investigation and Mònica Ubalde-López in the second.

Image: Freepik

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