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Downsizing in manufacturing can bring health benefits

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A long term study of sawmilling in Canada has disclosed that workers who were re-employed outside the industry after its downsizing in the 1980s enjoyed better heath than those remaining. The odds of poor health was 1.47 (95% confidence interval 1.02 to 2.11) for those continuing to work in the mills compared with workers who were laid off and found work elsewhere.

During 1979–1998, 60% of mill workers lost their jobs. In 1998 about half of the workers under retirement age were employed in sawmills and half outside the industry.

Restructured mills employed far fewer unskilled workers, managers, and tradesmen but threefold more semiskilled workers. High strain jobs—more psychologically demanding, with no control—were reported to have decreased slightly, as were noise and physical demand.

More workers who were laid off experienced unemployment, more frequently, and for longer, than those who remained. By 1998 two thirds were working in the service sector and forest products. A higher proportion were managers (34%) than in the mills (3%) and significantly fewer were unskilled workers (18% v 43%). Control and social support scores were higher than in the mills, and physical demand and noise scores were lower.

The study was based on a sample of 3000 employees in 14 study sawmills who were drawn randomly from a 28 000 cohort. Data on employment, work conditions, and health were based on 1885 interviews in 1998. They were adjusted for current smoking, age, income, highest educational level, occupational category in 1979 and 1998, job strain, and periods of unemployment.

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