Women in the workplace suffer a disproportionate number of many types of ergonomics related injuries, particularly when insufficient attention has been paid to the design of work, equipment, workstation and environment. The biological and physiological characteristics of a female can present different risks for musculoskeletal disorders from the male. In this presentation the differences and how they need to be addressed to provide a safe and healthy work environment for women in industry and the office will be discussed. Topics will include an overview of musculoskeletal disorders involving women, job hazard/risk factor analysis and control or prevention through medical management, fitness/exercise, posture and body mechanics.

At all stages of their working careers women are more likely than men to work part-time, be in lower status jobs and earn less than men. Poorly paid work that is demanding yet offers little control is the most psychologically and perhaps physically stressful. Some female dominated professions like health care require moving heavy loads and adopting awkward working postures while office work requires high levels of static muscular contraction. Women are also more likely than men to be performing work that involves repetitive tasks, working at workstations and using tools that were designed for men. All four issues, force, poor posture, static muscular contraction and repetition are known risk factors for musculoskeletal disorders.

Alongside the physical hazards in the workplace women more commonly face risks at home, as well. Activities still more often performed by women than men include lifting heavy children and groceries, moving dependant adults and performing repetitive tasks like cooking, cleaning and other house keeping chores.

Women More Prone to Musculoskeletal Disorders (MSDs)

Women are at least two (2) times more prone than men to develop MSDs of the upper body according to Ohio State University Scientists. Some researchers suspected that women were more likely to admit pain and seek treatment. Conventional wisdom held that men do physically demanding work leading to back pain and women do fine, repetitive work that leads to neck, shoulder and wrist problems. This study showed women more likely than men (2 to 11 times) to develop MSDs even when both have the same job. Researchers believe the reasons are a combination of biomechanical, physiological, psychological and other factors.

Why Are We Seeing an Increase in MSDs in Women?

Many reasons have been evaluated when trying to establish a cause for the increase in MSDs in women as well as the population in general. Some factors that have been proposed as related to this issue include:

  • Decreased level of physical fitness

  • Aging workforce

  • Increased work load

  • Obesity issues

  • Psychological stresses (Work and Home)

  • Change in work ethic

  • Better educated on MSDs

  • Static work and home postures

  • One size fits all in job, home and recreational activities

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