Fewer exposed to health risks at work

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The share of employed persons that are exposed to various physical strains at work has fallen in recent decades. Fewer people carry out heavy lifting, work in poor indoor climates or are exposed to passive smoke. We also find that several job-related health problems have become less common.

Some jobs entail a degree of risk. According to the living conditions survey on the working environment, 5 per cent of Norwegian employees were on continuous sickness absence of more than two weeks due to work in 2016. This corresponds to approximately 125 000 persons, and represents a decline from previous years. In 2003, 9 per cent of Norwegian employees had job-related sickness absence of more than 14 days. The decline may be associated with the fact that some of the activities entailing physical strain that we present below have become less common.

One in three feel physically worn out after work

More women than men say that they are physically worn out after work. Thirty-seven per cent of employed women say that they are worn out when they return home from work, compared with 30 per cent of men. Men and women work in different professions. This affects both the strains they experience at work and the type of health problems they risk incurring.

Back pain is one of the most widespread job-related health issues. Ten per cent experience pain in the neck, shoulders or upper back and 5 per cent in the lower back due to work. Women are especially exposed, and some occupations with a female majority, such as nursing and cleaning, have the highest rates of exposure. The proportion has however fallen for both sexes. Seven per cent of men and 13 per cent of women experienced pain in the neck, shoulders or upper back in 2016. This is 4 percentage points less than in 1996.

The proportion of employed persons that lift 20 kg or more at least five times a day has almost halved over the past 28 years, from 18 to 10 per cent. The proportion that spends most of the working day lifting in uncomfortable positions, working with arms raised or bent forward without support has also fallen. This might explain some of the fall in job-related back pain (STAMI 2015, p. 93).

Figure 1. Proportion of employed persons that lift in uncomfortable positions, work with arms raised and bent forward without resting on hands or arms most of the day and the proportion that lifts 20 kg or more at least five times a day

1989 1993 1996 2000 2003 2006 2009 2013 2016
Lifts in uncomfortable positions 9 8 6 7 5 4 5
Works with arms lifted 10 10 10 8 8 8 7 5 6
Works bent forward without support 12 11 10 10 9 4 6 4 5
Makes heavy lifts 18 16 17 15 14 13 12 10 10

We find similar developments in several related areas. The proportion exposed to physical risk factors at work has fallen, while the proportion that has been exposed to several job-related health problems has decreased. The decline in vulnerability and health problems may be due to the increased focus on security and changing regulations, but also the contraction of some of the most taxing occupations, in e.g. farming and manufacturing (Håland and Næsheim, 2016).

Almost every second nurse works in a poor indoor climate

One in five employed people are exposed to a poor indoor climate for most of their working hours. However, in 2000, one in three worked under such conditions. The health sector is particularly exposed, and 44 per cent of nurses have a poor indoor climate at work. This profession is dominated by women, which contributes to the fact that more women than men work under such conditions, with 28 and 15 per cent respectively.

The consequences may include headaches and migraines (STAMI 2015, p. 101), which is more prevalent among people reporting a poor indoor climate. Six per cent of employed people exposed to a poor indoor climate for most of their working hours experience job-related headaches, compared to 3 per cent of those who do not report a poor indoor climate.

Figure 2. Proportion of employed persons that are exposed to a poor indoor climate most of the day and exposed to dust, gas or steam most of the day, by sex

1989 1993 1996 2000 2003 2006 2009 2013 2016
Both sexes Poor indoor climate 34 32 28 24 24 21
Males Poor indoor climate 25 23 21 17 18 15
Females Poor indoor climate 43 42 36 32 32 28
Both sexes Dust, gas or steam 16 18 14 9 13 8 7 4 4
Males Dust, gas or steam 20 22 16 13 14 11 8 6 6
Females Dust, gas or steam 12 14 12 5 11 4 5 3 2

A poor indoor climate can also increase the risk of respiratory diseases, but the risk from working in dust, gas or steam (see text box) is even higher. This has also become less common. Ten per cent worked under such conditions in 1993, while the proportion was 4 per cent in 2016. Men have always been more exposed than women. The proportions were 6 per cent among men and 2 per cent among women in the last survey. This is related to the fact that some occupations dominated by men, e.g. agricultural workers, craftsmen and machine operators, are especially exposed.

Work in dust, gas or steam

This includes persons who can see or smell the following for most of their working hours:

-Dust or smoke from minerals (e.g. welding fumes)
-Mineral dust (e.g. from stones)
-Organic dust (e.g. flour)
-Gas or steam (e.g. ammonia)

 

Major decline in exposure to passive smoking at work

Passive smoking has gone from being a widespread health risk at work to being very rare. Twelve per cent of workers were exposed to tobacco smoke for most of the working day in 1989. The share was 19 per cent among young workers. This increased the risk of respiratory diseases. The proportion has fallen significantly and only 1 per cent of all workers and 2 per cent of young workers were exposed to passive smoke in 2016.

Figure 3. Proportion of employed persons that are exposed to passive smoking most of the working day, by age group

1989 1993 1996 2000 2003 2006 2009 2013 2016
Total 12 12 7 6 5 3 2 1 1
18-24 years 19 19 12 10 11 6 3 2 2
25-44 years 12 12 8 7 6 3 2 2 1
45-66 years 9 10 5 4 3 2 1 1 1

The biggest fall came when smoking was banned in restaurants and pubs on 1 June 2004. Thirty-five per cent of hotel and restaurant workers were exposed to passive smoke in 2003. The proportion had fallen to 3 per cent in 2006 and has subsequently remained steady. This can also explain some of the age differences in exposure, since many 18-24-year-olds work in the hospitality industry.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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