Examining sex/gender differences in exposures to workplace-acquired communicable disease: a systematic review

Reasons for the study

In 2019, Canadian women 15 years and older represented nearly half (47.4 per cent) of the labour force, compared to 37.6 per cent in 1976—a percentage increase of over 15 per cent. Yet much of our understanding of work exposures is still male-centric. Social (gender) and biological (sex) differences can affect the health of men and women in different ways.

This is particularly true in the case of workplace-acquired communicable diseases (that is, illnesses caused by an infectious agent). Social factors such as the types of jobs and industries in which men and women work can influence their exposure to communicable diseases. For example, men are more likely to work in outdoor environments (such as forestry and farm work) and are more likely to be exposed to tick-borne infections. The gendered nature of front-line and essential work, which became apparent in the COVID-19 pandemic, can also lead to different infection transmission/exposures in men and women. Biological factors related to differences in immunity to infections also can affect how likely men and women are exposed to communicable diseases in their workplaces.

While gender/sex considerations are increasingly included in work and health research, they are not often the focus of studies reporting patterns of workplace-acquired communicable disease exposure.

Objectives of the study

  • Review the literature to examine whether men and women within the same occupations have different exposures to workplace-acquired communicable diseases
  • Identify the occupations and industries in which gender/sex inequalities in work-related communicable disease exposure exist
  • Inform primary prevention approaches to ensure men and women are equally protected from workplace-acquired communicable diseases  

Target audience

Primary prevention policy-makers and stakeholders in sectors and industries where vulnerability to disease transmission has been exposed by the COVID-19 pandemic, including health care, agriculture, education and food supply; groups with an interest in gender and sex issues

Project status


Research team

  • Aviroop Biswas, Institute for Work & Health (PI)
  • Emma Irvin, Institute for Work & Health
  • Heather Johnston, Institute for Work & Health
  • Peter Smith, Institute for Work & Health
  • Mieke Koehoorn, University of British Columbia
  • Annalee Yassi, University of British Columbia

Collaborators and partners

BC Federation of Labour
BC General Employees’ Union
BC Nurses Union
Manufacturing Safety Alliance of BC
Women in Occupational Health & Safety Society

Funded by