Death rates differ over three-fold between jobs

Sitting down at work is often blamed for poor health, but office workers are less likely to die early than a builder, according to a new study.

Is your job healthy?
Is your job healthy?

Cleaners, factory workers and building site or farm labourers are more than three times as likely to suffer premature death, according to new research.

Mortality rates differ over three-fold between occupational groups, say scientists.

In some jobs - such as domestic cleaning - women are more likely to die early than they were 20 years ago.

The worst jobs for health include those in factories, construction, farm labouring or housekeeping and call centres, the study shows.

The best include those in medicine, business and public services, finance, teaching and IT.

The study - which tracked about half a million Britons for 20 years - showed low pay and social circumstances play a bigger role in premature death than having a sedentary desk job.

Keep on moving

Lead author Dr Vittal Katikireddi said: “That is not to say moving around at work is not important.

“Recent research has focussed on the changing patterns of work in the UK and how having a desk job can raise the risk of an early grave by reducing exercise.

“That of course is true. But we have shown labourers for instance - who are active at work - have high mortality rates.

“There needs to be greater emphasis on helping people lead healthier lives at work.

“It goes beyond advice to encouraging HGV drivers for instance to get out of their cabs regularly and offering them the opportunity to eat healthier foods.

“This could be provided by their companies.”

Occupational health

Dr Katikireddi and colleagues at the Social and Public Health Sciences Unit at Glasgow University looked at records from 1991 to 2011.

Using census and death records they confidentially compared mortality rates with occupational data in England, Wales and Scotland - the first study of its kind in the UK in 30 years.

Dr Katikireddi said: “Detailed assessments of mortality by occupation are scarce.

“Ongoing changes in the labour market make a reassessment of mortality by occupation timely.

“In particular - trends in the job market - such as the rise of so-called zero-hours contracts - could adversely affect health and health inequalities.

“It cannot be assumed patterns identified in the 1970s - which still underpin our contemporary understanding - continue to apply.”

The results showed doctors and other health professionals have very low death rates while factory workers and cleaners have amongst the highest.

Medical matters

During 4.51 million person-years of follow-up among 20 to 59 year-old working age adults there were over three-fold differences in mortality rates among 63 occupations.

Dr Katikireddi said: “Among men in England and Wales health professionals had the lowest mortality - 225 deaths per 100,000 person-years - with low rates also shown in managers and teachers.

“The highest mortality rates were in elementary construction - 701 deaths per 100,000 person-years - and housekeeping and factory workers.

“Among women, teachers and business professionals had low mortality, and factory workers and garment trade workers had high rates.

“Mortality rates have generally fallen, but have stagnated or even increased among women in some occupations, such as cleaners - 337 deaths per 100,000 person years - in 1991 rising to 426 deaths per 100,000 person years in 2001.”

The study published in The Lancet Public Health also found men who were health professionals - medical doctors, dentists, psychologists, pharmacists, opticians and vets - had the lowest mortality rates.

Among women, teachers and business professionals had the lowest mortality.

However the highest mortality rates overall occurred in men who reported no occupation.

The study was funded by the Medical Research Council (MRC), The Scottish Government Chief Scientist Office (CSO) and Wellcome.

Ten worst jobs for health: deaths per 100,000 person years.

1 Elementary construction occupations - 701

2 Elementary process plant occupations - 672

3 Elementary personal services occupations - 650

4 Elementary agricultural occupations - 623

5 Admin occupations - communications 604

6 Elementary cleaning occupations - 592

7 Textiles and garments trades 569

8 Housekeeping occupations 567

9 Metal forming, welding and related trades - 563

10 Elementary sales occupations 556

Ten best jobs for health

1 Health professionals 225

2 Business and public services professionals 228

3 Functional managers 233

4 Finance institution and office managers 234

5 Corporate managers and directors 250

6 Teaching professionals 262

7 Production managers 265

8 Protection services occupations 265

9 IT professionals 267

10 Business and finance associate professionals 269