Background Doctor –certified sick leave is prevalent in the health and social sector. We examined whether the higher risk of doctor-certified sick leave in women in health and social occupations compared to women in other occupations was explained by particular work-related psychosocial and mechanical risk factors. Methods A randomly drawn cohort aged 18–69 years from the general population in Norway was surveyed in 2009 (n = 12,255, response at baseline = 60.9 %), and was followed up in the national registry of social transfer payments in 2010. Eligible respondents were women registered with an active employee relationship for ≥100 actual working days in 2009 and 2010 (n = 3032). Using this sample, we compared health and social workers (n = 661) with the general working population (n = 2371). The outcome of interest was long-term sick leave (LTSL) ≥21 working days during 2010. Eight psychosocial and eight mechanical factors were evaluated. Results After adjusting for age, previous LTSL, education and working hours/week, women in health and social occupations had a higher risk for LTSL compared with women in the general working population (OR = 1.42, 95 % CI = 1.13–1.79; p = 0.003). After adjusting for psychosocial and mechanical factors, 70 % of the excess risk for LTSL was explained compared with the initial model. The main contributory factors to the increased risk were threats of violence and violence, emotional demands and awkward lifting. Conclusions Psychosocial and mechanical factors explained much of the excess risk for LTSL in women in health and social occupations compared with working women in general. Psychosocial risk factors were the most important contributors.
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