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Pride Day 2021 – Avoiding risk factors and preventing MSDs for LGBTI workers

The evidence on occupational safety and health (OSH) issues, such as musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs), among lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) workers is still limited. To contribute to fill in this gap, EU-OSHA is carrying out research on this important topic. 

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LGBTI workers report poorer physical and mental health compared with the general population, including MSD-related problems. The discrimination and the psychosocial risk factors they are exposed to at work suggest that LGBTI workers are likely to experience a higher prevalence of MSDs[1].

  • Psychosocial and organisational risk factors and MSDs

LGBTI workers are more likely than other groups of workers to experience harassment and discrimination at work. They are often subjected to multiple forms of verbal aggression in the form of jokes and mockery, hostile glances, gossiping and negative comments. Harassment can also take the form of aggressive exchanges and arguments with superiors, and this can result in a feeling of insecurity, the isolation of LGBTI workers in the workplace, and ultimately to the premature exit from employment. These experiences are associated with stress and a decline in mental health, resulting in a higher chance of the worker suffering from an MSD.

LGBTI workers frequently face discrimination when searching or applying for a job; either being not hired at the end of the recruitment process, or withdrawing from it before the end for fear of not being accepted. They are also more likely to be fired because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. A significant proportion of LGBTI workers conceal their sexuality or gender identity at work, usually because they feel that this is the only way to feel safe or protect themselves. In some cases, this concealment stems from their ambition to change jobs, or to retain the job they currently occupy.

LGBTI workers are more frequently employed in sectors and occupations where they expect to feel safer and experience less intolerance and discrimination; the so-called ‘prejudice-based segregation'. This might result in a higher presence of gay and bisexual men in female-dominated sectors or occupations, and of lesbian workers in male-dominated sectors or occupations. Some of these sectors and occupations are associated with a higher prevalence of MSDs.

  • Recommendations for practices and policy initiatives

The successful management of OSH issues and the prevention of MSDs among an increasingly diverse European workforce requires both companies and public bodies to embed in their policies and practices the concepts of worker participation, awareness raising, and prevention. Building up a culture of inclusion and a policy of zero tolerance towards discrimination within companies, as well as increasing knowledge on the main work-related health risk factors that affect LGBTI workers, can also help to bring visibility to this heterogeneous group of workers.

Some key policy recommendations to manage health risks and prevent MSDs among LGBTI workers include promoting a ‘diversity’ perspective among public authorities and labour inspectorates and a participatory approach, giving a voice to diverse groups within the workforce. Also, the development of non-binary OSH legislation and administrative procedures, and LGBTI company policies that address the diverse realities of LGBTI workers’ lives, are needed.

The Business Network for LGBTI Inclusion and Diversity (REDI) in Spain is an organisation that aims to foster an inclusive and respectful environment in participating organisations, contributing to the social acceptance of LGBTI workers and the eradication of socio-cultural prejudices and discrimination practices that hinder the professional development and optimum performance of LGBTI workers. The scope of their actions include guidance and consultancy, awareness raising, networking with relevant stakeholders and research activities.

You can find out more about diversity and MSDs in EU-OSHA’s database of practical tools and guidance. The campaign website’s priority area on workers’ diversity will be launched in November 2021 and a wide range of information, materials and resources will be promoted until the end January 2022. You can also follow EU-OSHA’s Healthy Workplaces Lighten the Load campaign on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.