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15 July 2013

United States: working conditions survey highlights blue /white collar gap

Public health surveys in the United States like those in Europe largely ignore the impact of working conditions. The 2010 survey by a United States Health Department agency, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), has put that right. It points up wide health gaps between categories of workers. Hispanic workers and manual labourers come off worst.

Some 20% of the 17 500 workers questioned (out of a survey total of 27 000) reported skin contact when working with potentially hazardous chemicals. This affected 27% of the least-educated workers but just 11% of educational high achievers.

The same finding was made for exposure to vapours, gas, dust and fumes: 25% of all workers are concerned, but this figure rises to 39.5% of the less educationally qualified and 32% among those of Hispanic origin. Looked at by sector, the majority of workers in mining (67%), agriculture (53%) and construction (51%) are concerned by exposure to such substances.

Where carpal tunnel syndrome - a disease linked to repetitive work that affects 4.8 million American workers – is concerned, the worst affected sector is unsurprisingly manufacturing industry. Estimates ​​by doctors attribute two-thirds of these health complaints to working conditions. Women are markedly more affected than men (4.5% of female versus 1.9% of male workers).

Fear of unemployment also affects workers’ health. While nearly one in three workers reported being worried, those whose jobs are most on the line in practice are male Hispanic (47%), divorced or separated and under-educated workers.

The only health risk for which the survey offered brighter prospects for low-skilled workers relates to working time. Nearly 19% of workers have to work 48 hours or more per week and 7% do 60 hours or more. The figure rises to 9% among graduates compared to 5% for those with little formal education.

The CDC public health survey has been done every year since 1957. In more than half a century it has considered working conditions only twice: in 1988 and 2010.

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