Objectives: The objective of this study was to determine whether there are gender differences in the effect of exposure to work-related physical and psychosocial risk factors on low back, neck, shoulder, or hand-arm symptoms and related sickness absence.
Methods: Data of a prospective cohort (study on musculoskeletal disorders, absenteeism stress and health) with a follow-up period of three years were used. Questionnaires were used to assess exposure to risk factors and musculoskeletal symptoms. Sickness absence was registered continuously. Female-to-male gender ratios (GR) were calculated to determine whether there were any differences in the effect. A GR value >1.33 or <0.75 was regarded as relevant.
Results: Except for the effect of bending the wrist and the neck backwards (GR 1.52-2.55), men generally had a higher risk of symptoms (GR range 0.50-0.68) with equal exposure. For sickness absence, a GR value of >1.33 was found for twisting the upper body, working in uncomfortable postures, twisting the wrist, bending the neck backwards, and coworker and supervisor support (GR range 1.66-2.63). For driving vehicles, hand-arm vibration, squeezing, working above shoulder level or below knee level, reaching, twisting the neck, job demands, and skill discretion, the GR value was <0.75. For job satisfaction, a GR value of 0.50 was found for absence due to back symptoms, while the GR value was 1.78 for sickness absence due to neck, shoulder, or hand-arm symptoms.
Conclusions: Although women are expected to be more vulnerable to exposure to work-related risk factors, the results of this study show that, in many cases, men are more vulnerable. This study could not explain the gender difference in musculoskeletal symptoms among workers.