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Worker health depends on workplace quality, study finds

On Behalf of | Dec 1, 2019 | Workers' Compensation

Researchers at the University of Washington reviewed the status of 6000 American workers. They found that occupational injuries and mental and physical health strongly coincided with the overall quality of work life.

The main health drivers they found were not just the kinds of issues insurance companies usually consider, such as safety training and equipment, air quality, and the like. They found worker health also depended on flexible schedules, good pay and hours and job security.

Low job security often appeared to decrease health

According to Insurance Journal, the researchers detected patterns reflecting today’s changing economy, and they used the health information to group workers into categories that follow the work people actually do.

For example, “job-to-job” workers such as rideshare drivers and self-employed odd-jobbers had decreased mental health and more injuries on the job.

“Precarious” workers such as retail or janitorial workers, with short-term gigs and often part-time hours, had poorer overall and mental health as well as job-related injuries.

More secure, long-term positions also had challenges

People doing often-unionized assembly line work were commonly well paid, but they had little input and few opportunities for advancement or new challenges.

They are what the researchers referred to as “dead-end,” and were more like the “precarious” workers in their rate of poor overall health and susceptibly to work injuries.

Doctors and military personnel with high-quality jobs requiring long hours and inflexible schedules were more like the “job-to-jobbers.” They often experienced occupational injuries and more commonly suffered from mental health challenges.

Uncertain jobs needing optimism showed promise

Florists did somewhat better. A category the researchers called “optimistic precarious” included service-sector jobs. They were more empowered to make decisions and choose their hours, had better health profiles.

The researchers suggest that despite insecurity, irregular hours and low pay, they had improved health due to their control over their schedules, active role in decision-making, and their chances to grow and be involved.

The researchers encourage policymakers and others able to affect the terms and conditions of workers’ lives to consider the overall life experience of employees in their work environments as either a safety feature or a risk factor.