Occup Environ Med doi:10.1136/oem.2010.064097
  • Original article

Gender differences in occupational exposure patterns

  1. Neil Pearce1,2
  1. 1Centre for Public Health Research, Massey University, Wellington, New Zealand
  2. 2Department of Medical Statistics, Faculty of Epidemiology and Public Health, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, London, UK
  1. Correspondence to Amanda Eng, Centre for Public Health Research, Massey University Wellington Campus, PO Box 756, Wellington, New Zealand; a.j.eng{at}
  • Accepted 23 March 2011
  • Published Online First 12 April 2011


Objectives The authors conducted a population-based survey to examine gender differences in occupational exposure patterns and to investigate whether any observed differences are due to: (a) gender differences in occupational distribution; and/or (b) gender differences in tasks within occupations.

Methods Men and women aged 20–64 years were randomly selected from the Electoral Roll and invited to take part in a telephone interview, which collected information on self-reported occupational exposure to specific dusts and chemicals, physical exposures and organisational factors. The authors used logistic regression to calculate prevalence ORs and 95% CIs comparing the exposure prevalence of males (n=1431) and females (n=1572), adjusting for age. To investigate whether men and women in the same occupation were equally exposed, the authors also matched males to females on current occupation using the five-digit code (n=1208) and conducted conditional logistic regression adjusting for age.

Results Overall, male workers were two to four times more likely to report exposure to dust and chemical substances, loud noise, irregular hours, night shifts and vibrating tools. Women were 30% more likely to report repetitive tasks and working at high speed, and more likely to report exposure to disinfectants, hair dyes and textile dust. When men were compared with women with the same occupation, gender differences were attenuated. However, males remained significantly more likely to report exposure to welding fumes, herbicides, wood dust, solvents, tools that vibrate, irregular hours and night-shift work. Women remained more likely to report repetitive tasks and working at high speed, and in addition were more likely to report awkward or tiring positions compared with men with the same occupation.

Conclusion This population-based study showed substantial differences in occupational exposure patterns between men and women, even within the same occupation. Thus, the influence of gender should not be overlooked in occupational health research.


  • Funding This project was funded by a Joint Research Portfolio of the Health Research Council, the Accident Compensation Corporation and the Department of Labour, which issued a Request for Proposals (RFP) for a study of the burden of occupational ill-health in New Zealand (HRC 04/072). The Centre for Public Health Research is supported by a Programme Grant from the Health Research Council of New Zealand (HRC 02/159).

  • Competing interests None.

  • Ethics approval Ethics approval was provided by the Massey University Human Ethics Committee (WGTN 03/133).

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

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