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Subcontractors and increased risk for work-related diseases and absenteeism


  • Disclosure Statement: This study has no conflict of interest.

Correspondence to: Jin-Young Min, PhD, Institute of Health and Environment, Seoul National University, 599 Gwanak, Gwanak-Ro, Gwanak-Gu, Seoul 151-742, Republic of Korea. E-mail:



Despite increasing reliance on subcontracting in many economic sectors, there is little information available on occupational health and safety issues among subcontractor employees. The purpose of this study was to investigate the effect of subcontracting on self-reported health problems and absences due to occupational accidents and sickness using a nationally representative sample from South Korea.


The data used were sampled from the second wave of the Korean Working Conditions Survey [2010]. Information on 3,282 parent firm employees and 728 subcontractor employees was obtained. For the logistic regression model, the outcomes were work-related health problems and absenteeism. The independent variables were personal and occupational characteristics, job aspects, and working hazards.


Subcontractor employees were significantly more likely to experience health problems than the employee at parent firms. In particular, subcontractors' risk of injuries and anxiety/depression increased twofold (odd ratios, OR = 2.01, 95% confidence interval, CIs, 1.24–3.26) and threefold (OR = 2.95, 95% CIs 1.52–5.73), respectively, after controlling for potential variables. In addition, subcontractor employees were three times more likely than employees at parent firms to miss work due to illness (OR = 3.56; 95% CIs 2.02–6.26). Working conditions, especially those related to job aspects and workplace exposures, attenuated these risks.


Subcontracting workers were found to have a higher risk of work-related diseases and a higher absenteeism rate than parent firm workers. Our study highlights the need to protect and improve the occupational health and safety of subcontractor employees. Am. J. Ind. Med. 56:1296–1306, 2013. © 2013 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.