Introduction In Québec, non-traumatic musculoskeletal disorders (MSD) represent 35% of workers’ compensation injuries and illnesses. From 1995 to 2002, the number of compensated MSD cases declined but duration of work absence for these disorders increased. In this study we sought to analyse gender differences in duration of non-traumatic MSD work absence in two more recent data sources.
Methods We used data from the Québec 2007–2008 Survey on Working and Employment Conditions and Occupational Health and Safety to estimate the gender-specific 12-month prevalence and work absence duration for non-traumatic WMSD. We used 2005–07 & 2010–12 Quebec workers’ compensation data to measure trends in the annual (1) mean number of compensated cases of non-traumatic MSD work absence, (2) mean and median duration of MSD work absence, and (3) proportion of absences of >90 days among those with a compensated MSD work absence.
Results The survey data estimated that 260,000 workers had a work absence of at least one day for a non-traumatic WMSD. The mean work absence duration was 19.9 days for women, 14.7 days for men. A significantly higher proportion of women than men had work absences > 90 days (10% vs 3.5%).
From 2005–07 to 2010–12, the annual mean number of compensated cases of non-traumatic MSD decreased for both genders (men: 19,700 to 13,800; women: 11,500 to 8,900), but the duration of work absence increased and was significantly higher in women than men, respectively increasing from 76.9 to 79.2 and 66.4 to 72.5 days. Among those absent, the proportion with work absences > 90 days was greater for women than men (2010–2012: 21.7% vs. 17.8%).
Discussion Identifying the determinants of gender differences in duration of WMSD work absence could guide appropriate gender-sensitive disability prevention and return-to-work strategies, improve workers’ quality of life and decrease the huge economic burden of work disability.
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