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13/01/2022

Healthy workplaces for everyone: reducing MSD-related risks for LGBTI workers

Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex (LGBTI) workers are more likely to face risk factors at work that lead to an increased prevalence of health conditions, including musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs). As many as one in seven (15%) LGBTI workers report fair, bad or very bad health. MSD prevention strategies should be tailored to the individual needs of LGBTI workers to be truly effective and inclusive.

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The musculoskeletal health of LGBTI workers is of particular concern. Although there is limited statistical evidence of MSDs among the demographic, we know from existing research that LGBTI workers are more frequently exposed to organisational and psychosocial risk factors, leading to the likelihood of a higher prevalence of MSDs among them.

From bullying and harassment to segregation: why are LGBTI workers more exposed to MSDs?

LGBTI workers face regular exposure to a number of different psychosocial risks, which can cause stress and mental health issues and, as a result, put pressure on the musculoskeletal system. These psychosocial risks can include discrimination, harassment, and forms of microaggression such as jokes, ridicule, staring, gossip and negative comments from co-workers and employers. Bullying in the workplace, for example, has been reported by 14% of gay workers, 17% of lesbian workers and 19% of bisexual workers, compared to 6% of heterosexual workers.

Research shows that transgender workers in particular are more often exposed to psychosocial risks. In one survey, 90% of transgender workers reported that they had directly experienced harassment or mistreatment at work or felt forced to hide their gender identity.

LGBTI workers are also frequently exposed to organisational risk factors, which can include institutional discrimination, reduced career opportunities and unsociable and/or longer working hours. In addition, on average, LGBTI workers earn 4% less and are 11% less likely to hold a high managerial position. Not only does this add stress, but it also means that LGBTI workers spend more time in the same job role and are therefore exposed to risks for longer, being consequently more likely to develop or aggravate an MSD.

LGBTI workers may also face ‘prejudice-based segregation. This refers to the tendency for the worker to choose jobs in which they expect to experience less intolerance and discrimination. This may result in a higher proportion of gay and bisexual men working in jobs in female-dominated sectors or occupations, and of lesbian workers in male-dominated sectors or occupations. A number of these sectors and occupations are associated with higher occupational safety and health and MSD-related risks.

A workplace that works for everyone

Ensuring a healthy workplace for all is a legal requirement that all employers must adhere to. When creating an MSD prevention strategy, it is important to keep LGBTI workers and the specific challenges they face in mind to ensure that it benefits all employees. Companies should remember that the individuals grouped under the ‘label’ LGBTI are not a homogenous group and their experiences of discrimination and specific needs may vary considerably, therefore tailoring risk assessments to this group can help make them more robust, accurate and effective. More research is needed to better understand what can be done to improve working conditions for LGBTI workers. It is also worth investing in training for staff to help eradicate prejudice among the work force.

Companies should consider a participatory approach to ergonomics in order to ensure representation for all workers. Seeking the input of workers in an MSD prevention strategy is invaluable as they are most familiar with the risks, challenges and requirements of the job.

One example of successful representation for LGBTI workers comes from REDI (Red Empresarial por la Diversidad e Inclusión LGTB), a non-profit inter-business network in Spain. Since its creation in 2015, REDI is helping businesses develop comprehensive inclusion policies and collaborating with different public and private organisations to improve the social acceptance and labour inclusion of LGBTI individuals. They also publish research into the working conditions of LGBTI workers in the form of reports and studies. REDI has proved that by fostering a more diverse and welcoming workplace – including lessening the risk of MSDs for LGBTI workers – businesses can retain talent, boost innovation and generate a higher sense of satisfaction among employees.

For more information, visit the diversity priority area page for a wide range of related resources, publications and tools and don’t forget to follow the campaign on social media via Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.