Women in the Workforce
How Workers’ Compensation Insurance Affects Working Women

Women’s Safety Issues

Impacts of Workers’ Compensation Insurance on Women



How Workers’ Compensation Insurance Affects Working Women

The percentage of women in the workforce has steadily increased and is now 50%.
From the 1960's to the 1990's, the percentage of women performing higher risk jobs, such as construction and manufacturing, also grew.1

Women account for only about 40% of all work injuries since they tend to work in less risky occupations than men; however, women ages 25-64 who perform the same jobs as men with the same number of hours have a 20% to 40% higher rate of injury.
One reason for this disparity could be attributed to workplaces, machinery and equipment traditionally being designed for men. (Neuhauser, p. 22)

Women’s injury risk is similar to men between the ages of 18-24, but the injury risk is 50% higher for women ages 55-64.
After consideration for occupational risk and work hours, the average injury risk for men is fairly constant between the ages of 18-44 and significantly declines thereafter.  On the other hand, women’s injury risk is fairly constant until age 54 and then declines slower thereafter compared to men. (Neuhauser, p.13-16)  Unfortunately, there is evidence that work injuries are underreported after the age of 65, likely shifting the medical treatment burden for these work injuries to Medicare. (Neuhauser, p. 21)

Women’s Safety Issues
•    Underreporting of Work Injuries by Immigrant Workers
    A study found that many women migrant garment workers do not report their work injuries, even though they are legally entitled to workers’ compensation benefits.  Despite their injuries, these women continue working and endure chronic pain.  This study also found that almost all patients surveyed at a Northern California Asian Immigrant Women Workers Clinic had a work injury, yet most of these women had not reported their injuries because they either did not know they were entitled to workers’ compensation benefits or were afraid of job consequences.2
•    Women are concentrated in lower-paying jobs, some of which are injury-prone.3
    Farmworkers– Women comprise 30% of California farm workers who spend long days doing physical labor in hard weather conditions and are exposed to harmful chemicals.  
    Hotels and restaurants– Almost 50% of leisure and hospitality workers are women and are primarily maids who experience high rates of back injuries and waitresses who are on their feet throughout their entire shift.
    Education and health– Approximately 75% of workers in education and health are women, including teachers and nurses, who have highly-stressful and physically demanding jobs.  One study found women sustained nearly 75% of needlestick injuries and those greatest at risk included nurses, nursing assistants, orderlies, janitors, and maids.4  Nurses are daily exposed to fatal bacteria.
    Manufacturing– About 30% of manufacturing workers are women and are concentrated in assembly line jobs that produce repetitive strain injuries.
    Wholesale and retail– Around 43% of wholesale and retail trade workers are women, with the greatest concentration in jobs that require repetitive motion and produce cumulative trauma strains such as grocery store cashiers.
    Trades- More women are working in traditionally male-dominated dangerous jobs such as the construction and trucking industries.  Women in these industries are concerned about lack of proper training, inadequate tools and protective equipment such as utilization of harnesses designed for men’s bodies, and unsatisfactory restroom facilities.5  A study found 30% of women killed by motor vehicles in the construction industry were flaggers.6

    Impacts of Workers’ Compensation Insurance on Women
    Since women and men tend to perform different kinds of jobs, women face different health challenges in the workplace.  Women generally report more work-related injuries for “carpal tunnel syndrome, tendonitis, respiratory diseases, infectious and parasitic diseases, and anxiety and stress disorders.”7   Women are also at risk for job injuries due to social, economic, and cultural factors.  Women perform more part-time, temporary, or contract work which generally has lower wages and fewer benefits.  Many immigrant women perform jobs with higher injury rates.  US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/women/  Research also indicates that women are less likely to hold management positions.8  Women in job positions with little or no power may be afraid to either raise safety issues or report an injury because of potential job loss or harassment. US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/women/   
    Carpal Tunnel Syndrome research shows “women are three times more likely than men to develop carpal tunnel syndrome, perhaps because the carpal tunnel itself may be smaller in women than in men.” 9  Women’s permanent disability compensation should not be reduced because women are allegedly predisposed to carpal tunnel syndrome due to a different anatomy than men.
    Apportionment is the practice of deducting a percentage of permanent disability attributable to causes outside the job.  Doctors may legally reduce disability compensation to women for such factors as degenerative changes, pregnancy, osteoporosis and osteopenia- even if these conditions were asymptomatic before the work injury.
    Example:   A 73-year-old woman suffered a spinal fracture and 40% of her permanent disability compensation was reduced because she was diagnosed with osteoporosis.  Although the court did not allow the doctor to apportion to “age,” the doctor was allowed to apportion to the preexisting osteoporosis condition even though it was not previously labor-disabling and such apportionment would disproportionately impact women.
    Stress and Psychological Disorders  More women than men report feeling stressed out at work, undervalued by their employer and underpaid.10  Stress can affect a woman's physical and mental health leading to: 

• anxiety    

• depression     

• insomnia
• nausea 

• headaches 

• poor appetite    

• high blood pressure 

• low self-esteem
• fatigue 

• alienation

• increased susceptibility to infection 

SB 863 eliminates compensation for psychological consequences of work-related orthopedic injuries, except in limited circumstances.  Unfortunately, some women experience psychological disorders after sustaining an orthopedic injury.  For example, mothers with back injuries cannot lift their own young children, women face the reality that they can no longer do the job they love because of a work injury, and women become addicted to pain medication.  The consequences of a work injury- pain, limitation in activities of daily living, dire financial situations- can be devastating to an injured worker.  Under SB 863, these women may not be compensated for the psychological symptoms and permanent disability they have to live with after a work injury.  



1 Neuhauser, Frank et al. “Working Safer or Just Working Longer?  The Impact of an Aging Workforce on Occupational Injury and Illness Costs.” CHSWC Report (February 2011) 16.

2 Kominski, Gerald et al.  “Access to Medical Treatment in the California Workers’ Compensation System.” UCLA Health Policy Research Report (December 2006) 23.

3 Data from Michael Bernick’s “The Latest Data on Women and Men in the California Workforce,” Fox & Hounds (Jan. 11, 2012).

4 Leigh, J. Paul et al.  “Characteristics of Persons and Jobs with Needlestick Injuries in a National Data Set.”  American Journal of Infection Control. Aug 2008 http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/women/bloodborne.html.

5 Goldenhar, Linda et al. “Tradeswomen’s Perspectives on Occupational Health and Safety:  A Qualitative Investigation.”  American Journal of Industrial Medicine.  May 1996 http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/women/construction.html.

6 Goldenhar, Linda et al. “Women Working in Construction:  Risks and Rewards.” Safe Workplace.  August-September 2000 http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/women/construction.html.

7 US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/women/

8 US Government Accountability Office. “Women in Management.” (9/28/10) http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d101064t.pdf

9 National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/carpal_tunnel/detail_carpal_tunnel.htm

10 American Psychological Association http://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2013/03/employee-needs.aspx