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Researchers from NIOSH & UC Berkeley presented with 2017 Liberty Mutual Award; Stressors among Pregnant Workers

March 15, 2017
NIOSH Update:

Contact: Nura Sadeghpour (202)245-0673

A National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) researcher’s involvement in a study examining the relationship between biomechanical stressors and pregnant workers is recognized as a recipient of the 2017 Liberty Mutual Research Institute for Safety Award, one that distinguishes excellence in safety and health research. The award for “best paper” was presented to Captain Leslie MacDonald, Sc.D., based out of NIOSH Cincinnati, and partners from the University of California, Berkeley, Professor Sylvia Guendelman, Ph.D. and Alison Gemmill, MPH, Ph.D., on April 26th in Northamptonshire, United Kingdom.

The winning paper, “Biomechanical and organisational stressors and associations with employment withdrawal among pregnant workers: evidence and implications,” explores exposure and employment pattern changes in a community-based sample of 1,114 employed women during an entire pregnancy. Some of the biomechanical stressors these women faced on the job included prolonged standing (>4 hours), lifting (>15 pounds daily) or bending at least 10 times per hour. Fifty percent of women were exposed to at least two of these stressors at the beginning of their pregnancy, and more than one quarter (28%) were exposed to all three plus at least one organizational stressor (e.g., shiftwork or effort-reward imbalance).

A significantly higher proportion of women exposed to biomechanical job stressors withdrew from work by taking leave prior to giving birth (antenatal leave) or quitting, compared with unexposed women (48% versus 37%). For those women exposed to biomechanical job stressors who remained employed through the end of full-term delivery, one-third reported a cessation of exposure during pregnancy, likely through ergonomic redesign of the job or to a light duty job assignment, and 8% reported work schedule accommodations.

The study was conducted in the state of California, one of the few U.S. states that offers paid maternity leave with partial wage replacement, in addition to a state-based regulatory framework that governs workplace exposure to ergonomic stressors. The findings highlight that pregnant women employed in manual labor occupations are at risk of income inequalities due to employment discontinuity. Comprehensive worksite health and safety programs are needed to control exposure to biomechanical job hazards for all workers employed in manual labor occupations, including during pregnancy.

The winning paper was published in Ergonomics (Vol. 59, No. 12, pp. 1613-1624, 2016).

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