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Men experience bulk of illness caused by work

Work is more likely to make men ill according to Government research. Data from the Australian Burden of Disease Study, which calculates the impact that different risk factors have our health, shows that men experience almost three-quarters (72%) of the health burden linked to work.

Men’s unequal share of this health burden differs by cause, from 63% of back pain & problems to 89% of other unintentional injuries. Notably, men experience 96% of the health burden linked to the lung disease pneumoconiosis, which is cause by dust inhalation (including coal dusts and asbestos).

Burden of disease analysis is a technique used to assess and compare the impact of different diseases, conditions or injuries. It uses information from a range of sources to measure the fatal (for example, dying from cancer) and non-fatal (for example, living with cancer) effects of these diseases in a consistent manner.

The result is a measure called DALY (disability-adjusted life years), which combines the impact of dying early and living with illness, by estimating the years of life lost due to premature death (YLL) and years lived in ill health or with disability (YLD) to count the total years of healthy life lost from disease and injury.

These measures enable us to calculate that men experience almost three-quarters (72%) of the loss of good health, due to the hazards they are exposed to at work. These hazards include carcinogens, asthmagens, noise, ergonomic stressors, injury, and to particulate matter, gases and fumes in the workplace.

In terms of the whole population, work is responsible for 81% of the health burden due to mesothelioma (a cancer cause by asbestos), 43% of the burden from fires, burns & scalds and 17% of the burden from back pain & problems.

Over a third (36%) of the health burden linked to health is fatal, though that varies depending on the disease. Over 90% of cancers and pneumoconiosis were due to the fatal burden, while hearing loss and back pain & problems were entirely non-fatal.

The high levels of poor health linked to work in men, reflects both a higher labour force participation rate and employment in riskier industries and occupations which are more likely to expose workers to hazards.

Overall, musculoskeletal disorders are responsible for almost half (49%) of the burden between ages 30 and 39. In older ages, the cancer burden attributable to occupational exposures increases (peaking in ages 70–74), due to a lag of up to 40 years between exposure to some carcinogens and disease outcomes.

Who's making a difference for men?

In terms of workplace fatalities, some campaigners believe that introducing Industrial Manslaughter laws is one of the key changes  needed to reduce the number of people who die at work every year.

More broadly, there are a number of organisations around Australia that focus on improving the lives and health of workers in male dominated industries. This include:

If you know of other projects working to improves men's health at work (including projects focused on male-dominated industries) please contact us at: [email protected]




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22 April 2024

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