Self-assessed occupational health and working environment of female nurses, cabin crew and teachers

Herdis Sveinsdo´ ttir1 RN, PhD (Professor), Ho´ lmfrı´ður Gunnarsdo´ ttir2 Msc, PhD (Senior Researcher) and
Hildur Friðriksdo´ ttir3 MS (Research Assistant)
1Faculty of Nursing, University of Iceland, 2Research Center for Occupational Health & Well-being, Administration of Occupational Safety &
Health and 3Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Iceland, Reykjavı´k, Iceland

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Aim: The aim of this study was to describe and compare the self-assessed occupational health among female nurses, cabin crew and teachers, in relation to their working environment.

Background: Similarities between the three occupations, i.e. predominantly female and service-oriented, render them interesting in comparison with respect to health and working environment.

Methods: The participants were female Icelandic cabin crew, nurses and elementary school teachers. A questionnaire including items on socio-demographics, working environment (addressing work pace, job security, monotonous work, assistance, physically strenuous work and physical environmental factors) and a symptom list was used for data collection. Factor analyses on the symptom list resulted in five symptom scales: Musculoskeletal, Stress and exhaustion, Common cold, Gastrointestinal and Sound perception scale. A total of 1571 questionnaires were distributed. The response rate was 65.7–69%, depending on occupation. Data were collected in 2002.

Results: Cabin crew reported worse gastrointestinal, sound perception and common cold symptoms than nurses and teachers. Cabin crew and teachers reported worse symptoms of stress and exhaustion than nurses (p < 0.05). When compared with teachers and nurses cabin crew reported less job security and more physically strenuous and monotonous work. Nurses were likelier to seek assistance from co-workers or patients as well as to take care of an older relative than teachers and cabin crew. Regression analysis found that within each occupation distress from environmental factors resulted in higher score on all the
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Conclusions: Nurses experience less stress and exhaustion than teachers and cabin crew. In comparison with one or both of the other occupations nurses are more likely to assist each other with their work, experience job security, reporting physically complex work and take care of older relatives. This should be highlighted as positive aspects of nurses’ work praised as displaying responsibility and interconnectedness of nurses’.