Occupational health research round-up – April 2012

Long working hours and depression episodes

Further analysis of the Whitehall II study has found that working long hours may predispose people to major depressive episodes. The odds ratio for a middle-aged civil servant, with no history of mental illness, to experience a major depressive episode after working long hours was 2.43 times higher for those working at least 11 hours a day, compared with those working a seven- or eight-hour day. Adjusting the data for chronic physical disease, smoking, alcohol use and work-related social support had little effect on this association.

“Overtime work as a predictor of major depressive episode: a five-year follow-up of the Whitehall II study”, Virtanen M et al, PLoS ONE 7(1).

“Executive derailment” and workplace wellbeing

“Executive derailment”, loosely defined as a senior manager’s in­ability to psychologically cope with major organisational change, does little for the wellbeing and performance of an organisation, according to research published in the US. Around 20% to 40% of executive appointments fail for one reason or another, and reducing a manager’s susceptibility to “derailment” remains a matter of key concern for all those connected with workplace wellbeing, including employee assistance programme counsellors and occupational health, the research suggests.

“Derailment and personality”, Watson M, Counselling at Work Journal, winter 2011/12.

Nursing and the risk of spontaneous abortion

Certain occupational risks common to nursing are associated with a risk of spontaneous abortion, according to this study of nurses self-reporting exposure at work to anaesthetic gases, antiviral and chemotherapy drugs and X-rays. Pregnancy outcomes and occupational exposures were collected from 7,482 nurses, 10% of whom reported spontaneous abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy. After adjusting for age, shift working and total hours worked, exposure to antineoplastic drugs used in chemotherapy was associated with a two-fold increased risk of spontaneous abortion, while exposure to sterilising agents, such as disinfectants, was associated with a two-fold rise in late spontaneous abortion.

“Occupational exposures among nurses and risk of spontaneous abortion”, Lawson C et al, American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, first published online 30 December 2011.

Work-related stress and type 2 diabetes

The hypothesis that high work-related stress exposure is directly associated with an increased risk of type 2 diabetes is not supported by the research literature, according to this systematic review of the evidence. The researchers located nine studies covering a possible link between psychological stress and late onset diabetes, but could find no statistically significant associations between any aspect of work-related stress or job strain and the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

“Work-related stress and type 2 diabetes: systematic review and meta-analysis”, Cosgrove MP et al, Occupational Medicine, first published online 14 February 2012.

Part-time working is good for rehabilitation

Part-time sick leave, or put another way, part-time working, can be a good, cost-effective way of supporting an employee back to work following an absence due to a musculoskeletal disorder, according to this study of 1,170 Swedish workers. The results of the research show that employees sanctioned to take part-time sickness absence are more likely to recover and return to full-time work than those who go on full-time sick leave.

“Part-time sick leave as a treatment method for individuals with musculoskeletal disorders”, Andren D and Svensson M, Journal of Occupational Rehabilitation, first published online 24 January 2012.

Recording occupational health history

A well-designed questionnaire covering an employee’s occupational health history is, in the majority of cases, sufficient to enable recruiters to assess and make recommendations about any adaptations or restrictions that might be necessary prior to the commencement of employment, according to this retrospective study of 172 US healthcare workers. However, in a small number of cases, taking a person’s OH history alone is not sufficient to enable appropriate recommendations on employment to be made, requiring an occupational examination to be carried out in addition to the questionnaire.

“Is an occupational examination superior to an occupational health history alone for pre-placement screening in health care settings?” Newcomb RD et al, Journal of Occupational & Environmental Medicine, first published online 22 February 2012.

Safer sharps devices

The use of safer sharps devices reduces the incidence of needlestick injuries among healthcare workers, according to this systematic review of the evidence. However, their use is not a complete solution to cutting injuries from sharps – safer devices should be introduced alongside better educational programmes, the authors suggest. Healthcare workers should also be involved in evaluating products before any new devices are introduced in the workplace, they conclude.

“An evaluation of the efficacy of safer sharps devices”, Heath and Safety Laboratory; Health and Safety Executive research report no. 914.

Workplace violence incidents down in 2010/11

The number of violent incidents at work fell last year, continuing the downward trend of the past decade. However, the headline figures disguise some worrying trends, for example, the number of physical assaults against British workers rose by 10% over the period. Findings from the British crime survey and data reported under RIDDOR shows that the number of threats of violence fell by 15% in 2010/11. Around 40% of all those threatened or assaulted at work were repeat victims, the latest figures show. Men aged 25 to 34 are at the greatest risk of workplace violence, whereas for women, it is those in the older age groups that are at highest risk.

“Violence at work: violence at work statistics from the 2010/11 British crime survey & RIDDOR”.

Legal news round-up

Botched employer-funded surgery ends in pay-out

A maintenance fitter whose employer paid for him to have surgery on a knee injured in a workplace accident has received substantial compensation after pursuing a personal injury claim against his former employer and a clinical negligence claim against the surgeon who carried out the operation. The fitter suffered the injury when a manhole cover gave way, but experienced even more pain and loss of mobility after having surgery at the South Cheshire Private Hospital in Crewe. He took 20 months off and eventually returned on light duties. Albion Inorganic Chemicals, the employer, admitted liability for the accident and the surgeon agreed to pay the majority of the settlement to cover both claims.

Silicosis settlement

A stonemason has received a six-figure settlement from his former employer after developing silicosis after exposure to silica dust at work. Mr Whittaker was exposed to the stone dust while working for William Anelay for nearly 40 years. During his employment, the organisation had never warned him about the health risks of silica dust from stones.

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