The Difference in Workers’ Compensation Claims in Men Versus Women
Gender equality in the workplace is one of the most important fights of our time. And on that front, we have made significant progress as a society, although there is still work to be done. However, when it comes to workplace accidents and injuries, significant differences between men and women persist. Some of these differences may be attributed to societal factors (e.g., men generally are employed in more hazardous professions than women) and others to biology. Men’s bodies are different from women’s, and those differences affect how men and women experience and recover from workplace injuries and how they pursue workers’ compensation claims.
Male-Dominated vs. Female-Dominated Professions
Men and women tend to dominate different professions, which, in turn, has an effect on the types of occupational hazards they are exposed to.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the top 10 most male-dominated professions for which data are available are cement masons (100%); extraction workers (99.5%); electrical power-line installers and repairers (99.3%); crane and tower operators (98.9%); bus and truck mechanics and diesel engine specialists (98.8%); heavy vehicle and mobile equipment service technicians and mechanics (98.8%); HVAC mechanics and installers (98.5%); electricians (98.3%); plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters (97.9%); and tree trimmers and pruners (97.8%).
The top 10 most female-dominated professions are skincare specialists (98.2%); preschool and kindergarten teachers (96.8%); executive secretaries and administrative assistants (96.4%); speech-language pathologists (95.1%); dental hygienists (95.1%); medical secretaries and administrative assistants (95.0%); childcare workers (94.6%); non-legal, -medical, or -executive secretaries and administrative assistants (92.5%); hairdressers, hairstylists, and cosmetologists (92.4%); and dental assistants (92.0%).
Occupational Hazards for Men vs. Women
While it is clear that men and women dominate different professions, they also are exposed to different types of occupational hazards, which result in different types of injuries. According to a comparative study, men have greater exposure to noise, vibration, medical radiation, physically demanding work, solar radiation, falls, biomechanical risks, chemical hazards, and blood contamination. Women have greater exposure to wet work, bullying and discrimination, work stress, and biological agents. Men and women often are exposed to different risks even within the same profession. For example, men in the same occupation as women are more likely to be exposed to physical hazards, while women in the same occupation as men are more likely to experience harassment. Another study found that physical injury claims are 1.4 times higher among men, while mental disorder claims are 1.9 times higher among women.
Prevalence of Workplace Accidents and Injuries for Men vs. Women
Men make up the majority of victims of work-related accidents and injuries, which should come as no surprise given that men are overrepresented in physically demanding and/or dangerous occupations. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), male workers account for approximately 66% of work-related injuries treated in emergency rooms. The figures for fatal work-related accidents are even more stark; according to BLS, men made up 91.9% of all work-related fatalities in 2020 — a staggering difference. Among fatal injury events, men and women suffer roadway incidents, slips and falls, and toxic exposure fairly equally. However, men make up a significantly larger proportion of the victims of accidents involving contact with objects and equipment than women (16% vs. 7%), while women make up a significantly larger proportion of the victims of homicide in the workplace than men (17% vs. 7%).
Workers’ Compensation Claims for Men vs. Women
Workers who suffer injuries due to work-related accidents — both men and women — may be eligible for benefits through a workers’ compensation claim. The key issue in most workers’ compensation claims is not what type of injury occurred but whether the injury was work-related. Generally, an injury will be found to be work-related for workers’ compensation purposes if it arises out of or is within the scope of the worker’s duties. For example, a line cook who suffers a severe burn likely would be eligible for workers’ compensation benefits because the injury was a direct result of his or her work duties. But if the line cook was doing something clearly outside the scope of his or her employment — say, horse playing with coworkers — he or she likely would not be eligible for workers’ compensation.
Men and women may make claims for workers’ compensation benefits on the same basis, even though they tend to suffer different work-related accidents and injuries. However, the workers’ compensation system is not entirely gender-neutral. To illustrate, many state workers’ compensation laws, such as New York’s, were formerly known as “workmen’s compensation” and were not updated to the gender-neutral “workers’ compensation” until many years after their enactment (in New York’s case, 1978). There is also evidence to suggest that men and women may be evaluated differently when claiming workers’ compensation. A 2022 study of the Texas workers’ compensation system showed that female claimants were 5% more likely to be evaluated as disabled and received 8.5% more in benefits when the doctor assigned to their claim was female rather than male. No comparable effect was found for male workers, whose benefits were the same regardless of their evaluating doctor’s gender.
Comprehensive data on workers’ compensation claims by gender is elusive. Workers’ compensation programs are administered at the state level, meaning that there is no nationwide repository for such data, and not all states publish the demographic characteristics of their workers’ compensation claimants.
However, given that men are more likely to work in physically demanding jobs than women and constitute a majority of emergency department visits for work-related injuries, it would not be unreasonable to assume that workers’ compensation claims would show the same trends. This is indeed the case in California, for example, which reported in 2020 that 57% of first reports of injury submitted to the Workers’ Compensation Information System were made by men, while 43% were made by women.