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J Epidemiol Community Health 56:405-406 doi:10.1136/jech.56.6.405
  • Working conditions
  • Editorial

The consequences of flexible work for health: are we looking at the right place?

  1. J Benach1,
  2. M Amable1,2,
  3. C Muntaner3,
  4. F G Benavides1
  1. 1Occupational Health Research Unit, Department of Experimental and Health Sciences, Universitat of Pompeu Fabra, Barcelona, Spain
  2. 2Lanus National University, Lanus, Argentina
  3. 3Department of Behavioural and Community Health and Department of Epidemiology and Preventive Medicine, University of Maryland, Baltimore, USA
  1. Correspondence to:
 Dr J Benach, Department of Health and Experimental Sciences, Occupational Health Unit, Universitat of Pompeu Fabra, C/Dr Aiguader, 80, 08003 Barcelona, Spain;
 joan.benach{at}cexs.upf.es

    Association between working conditions and health

    Working conditions in industrialised countries have changed dramatically over the past two decades. The internationalisation of investment, production and trade, the application of new technologies, and the emergence of new forms of work organisation have transformed what had become standard forms of work arrangements, capital-labour accords and employment contracts. One of the most significant changes has been the generalisation of flexible labour markets, with the emergence of new forms of employment contracts (or the re-emergence of contract and temporary labour) and the reduction of employee security. Within this context, unemployment has declined or stabilised whereas the “standard” full time permanent job with benefits has being replaced with temporary work, contingent, part-time contract, unregulated work, home based work, and other non-standard work arrangements many of which are characterised by their reduced job security, lower compensation, and impaired working conditions.

    There is overwhelming evidence that unemployment is strongly associated with economic strain, and psychosocial factors that increase the risk of adverse health outcomes, unfavourable lifestyles, and economic difficulties.1 Despite optimistic claims of full employment and tight labour markets, many workers in “flexible” jobs share labour market characteristics (lower credentials, low income, female gender, migrants, non-white race) with the unemployed and go themselves through periods of unemployment. Therefore, working conditions under those new types of work arrangements may be as dangerous as unemployment for workers' health.2

    What can be the consequences of flexible work for health? Most initial evidence has originated from studies of job insecurity, usually measured with attitude scales (for example, the discrepancy between the level of security a person experiences and the level she or he prefers). …

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