Female flight attendants who have been sexually harassed by passengers are almost three times as likely to rate their health as only fair or poor, reveals research in Occupational and Environmental Medicine.

The health of other women working regularly with the public may be similarly jeopardised, suggest the authors.

The research team surveyed some 2000 women who had previously or currently worked as flight attendants for a national European airline between 1965 and 1995.

Compared with former employees, more of the women who currently worked in the industry rated their health as \'fair\' to \'poor,\' and reported psychological distress, as measured by the validated General Health Questionnaire.

Flight attendants were almost twice as likely to give a low rating to their health if their job satisfaction levels were low. But they were almost three times as likely to do so, if they had recently experienced sexual harassment by passengers.

Around one in five (22%) of those currently working in the industry said they has been sexually harassed by passengers. And almost 4 per cent said they had experienced this within the past 12 months.

Almost half of all the women surveyed said that they had also been sexually harassed by a colleague or superior. And 12 per cent said they had experienced this within the previous year; just over a third of these incidents were of the most severe type.

For the purposes of this study, sexual harassment was defined as receiving unwanted attention, being propositioned, groped, subjected to offensive remarks about personal appearance, shown sexually explicit material, and being threatened, blackmailed, or subjected to attempted non-consensual sexual acts.

Around one in 10 women still working in the industry, who said they had been sexually harassed by a colleague or superior, sustained adverse health effects as a result.

Psychological distress was also associated with low job satisfaction and tension with a partner over childcare.

\"The effect of sexual harassment by passengers on health of flight attendants may be relevant to other working women dealing with the public,\" comment the authors.

Emma Dickinson
BMJ Specialty Journals