What Makes a Job Safe (or Unsafe)?

It goes without saying that some jobs are more dangerous than others. For example, working as a roofer entails more risks that a receptionist. But aside from the obvious factors, what else impacts your health and workplace injury risk?

Tough Days at the Office

A team of researchers from the University of Washington (UW) believe they have the answers to this question. They point to three things in particular that impact a worker’s mental and physical health – job structure, pay and schedule flexibility.

In order to reach this conclusion, the authors poured over data collected from the General Social Survey. Using this data, the study was able to determine that poor mental and physical health was likely to be found among those in “dead end” jobs. Workers who held short-term/contract jobs or part-time positions likewise found themselves in similar situations.

The team also noted that health problems were prevalent among “inflexible” skilled workers. These adults worked high-quality jobs, but had little say in their work schedules, and often had to contend with long shifts. They not only were beset with mental health woes, but were more likely to sustain injuries on the job.

Flexibility, Control and Health

On the other hand, the news was much better for so-called “optimistic precarious” employees. Despite having to contend with “insecurity, low pay and irregular hours,” this group enjoyed comparable health to those working standard job arrangements. The study contends that such workers have significant input in their schedules, and are provided with opportunities for advancement. They are also allowed to participate in workplace decision-making processes.

“This research is part of a growing body of evidence that the work people do – and the way it is organized and paid for – is fundamental to producing not only wealth, but health,” stated Noah Seixas, a UW professor of environmental/ occupational health and study author. “Using policy and legal levers to influence how people are hired and treated at work can have profound effects on improving the health of workers and their communities.”

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