Invisible work, unseen hazards: The health of women immigrant household service workers in Spain

Emily Q. Ahonen, María José López-Jacob, María Luisa Vázquez, Victoria Porthé, Diana Gil-González, Ana María García, Carlos Ruiz-Frutos, Joan Benach, Fernando G. Benavides

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

50 Scopus citations


Background: Household service work has been largely absent from occupational health studies. We examine the occupational hazards and health effects identified by immigrant women household service workers. Methods: Exploratory, descriptive study of 46 documented and undocumented immigrant women in household services in Spain, using a phenomenological approach. Data were collected between September 2006 and May 2007 through focus groups and semi-structured individual interviews. Data were separated for analysis by documentation status and sorted using a mixed-generation process. In a second phase of analysis, data on psychosocial hazards were organized using the Copenhagen Psychosocial Questionnaire as a guide. Results: Informants reported a number of environmental, ergonomic and psychosocial hazards and corresponding health effects. Psychosocial hazards were especially strongly present in data. Data on reported hazards were similar by documentation status and varied by several emerging categories: whether participants were primarily cleaners or carers and whether they lived in or outside of the homes of their employers. Documentation status was relevant in terms of empowerment and bargaining, but did not appear to influence work tasks or exposure to hazards directly. Conclusions: Female immigrant household service workers are exposed to a variety of health hazards that could be acted upon by improved legislation, enforcement, and preventive workplace measures, which are discussed. Am. J. Ind. Med. 53:405-416, 2010.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)405-416
Number of pages12
JournalAmerican Journal of Industrial Medicine
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2010


  • Environmental hazards
  • Ergonomic hazards
  • Household service
  • Immigrant
  • Migrant
  • Occupational health
  • Psychosocial hazards
  • Wellbeing

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health

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    Ahonen, E. Q., López-Jacob, M. J., Vázquez, M. L., Porthé, V., Gil-González, D., García, A. M., Ruiz-Frutos, C., Benach, J., & Benavides, F. G. (2010). Invisible work, unseen hazards: The health of women immigrant household service workers in Spain. American Journal of Industrial Medicine, 53(4), 405-416.