Social Disparities in the Burden of Occupational Exposures: Results of a Cross-Sectional Study

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BackgroundMost occupational studies evaluate a single exposure in relation to a particular disease. However, workers typically experience multiple exposures simultaneously. There is also increasing evidence of disparities in health by sociodemographic characteristics, mostly related to social position such as gender, race/ethnicity, immigration status, income, and education. Little information exists on the worker experience of multiple occupational exposures as they vary among social groups. The objectives of this article were to: assess the burden of exposures reported within 1 year by a socially diverse population working in a range of industries; and evaluate whether sociodemographic characteristics affected the patterns of these exposures.MethodsStudy participants were from 14 unionized worksites in meat processing, electrical lighting manufacturing, retail grocery stores, and school bus driving. A cross-sectional study design used a self-administered, computer-assisted questionnaire (English and Spanish) to assess sociodemographic characteristics and nine workplace exposures, within the past year. An interviewer-administered job history also was collected.ResultsTwelve hundred eighty-two workers (72%) completed the survey: 36% women, 23% Latino, 39% black, 24% white, and 48% born outside the US. The prevalence of high exposures ranged from 21% (chemicals) to 39% (neck strain). Forty-six percent reported three or more high exposures. Exposure reporting varied among sociodemographic groups. Some of the disparities were explained by the jobs held by different groups, but after statistically controlling for job, many disparities remained.ConclusionsSociodemographic characteristics should be considered when conducting exposure assessments using questionnaires. More research is needed to understand how social characteristics may influence exposures.

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