Overworked chefs at risk of accidents: OH research round-up July 2017

Almost 80% of chefs surveyed said that they have had an accident or near miss at work that due to fatigue
Almost 80% of chefs surveyed said that they have had an accident or near miss at work that due to fatigue

This month’s round-up of occupational health research includes a study on overworked chefs and evidence that older workers compensate for age discrimination. 

London chefs face “punishing” hours

A “punishing” culture of long working hours is putting the mental and physical health of chefs in London at risk, according to a survey by the union Unite. Almost 80% of the chefs surveyed said that they have had an accident or near miss at work that they attribute to fatigue, and 51% report they suffer from depression due to being overworked. Nearly 70% report that long working hours affect their health and 27% say they drink alcohol to see them through a shift.

Cancer incidence among female lab workers

Women who worked for at least 10 years in chemical laboratories have an elevated risk of breast cancer, according to this follow-up study of a Swedish cohort first followed until 1992. The breast cancer risk is especially high in women who worked for long periods in chemical laboratories before 1970. The authors conclude that this risk, together with an earlier discovered excess of hematolyphatic malignancies, may be related to exposure to organic solvents (for example, benzene) used in laboratories in the earlier years of women participants’ working lives.

Gustavsson P et al. “Cancer incidence in female laboratory employees: extended follow-up of a Swedish cohort”. Occupational & Environmental Medicine, published online 19 May 2017.

Mental health and working hours mismatch

Women are especially vulnerable to the effects of long working hours on mental wellbeing, especially during difficult economic times, according to this longitudinal analysis of the European Social Survey. Being required to work long hours (involuntary long hours) was positively associated with poor mental wellbeing for men; for women, both involuntary and voluntary long hours, and involuntary short hours, were all positively associated with poor mental wellbeing.

Moortel D De et al. “Working hours mismatch, macroeconomic changes and mental wellbeing in Europe”. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, published online 10 May 2017.

Older workers compensate for age discrimination

Older workers adjust their work style in response to perceived age discrimination, according to this two-part study. The second part explored active work styles, defined as an older worker’s general level and pattern of workplace effort and activity, finding that those adopting a highly active work style improved the otherwise harmful effects of age discrimination at work.

In practice: the authors suggest that employers need to facilitate a positive age diversity climate by actively challenging negative stereotypes through education and training programmes, together with the enforcement of fair and just diversity policies.

Bayl-Smith P and Griffin B. “Age discrimination within a P-E fit paradigm: maintaining fit with an active work style”. Journal of Occupational & Organizational Psychology, published online 20 March 2017.

Stressors beget stressors

Passive leadership styles can create a stressful workplace and have a detrimental effect on employees’ health, this study suggests. It investigates the negative effect passive leadership has on two common workplace stressors: workload and work/family conflict, finding that both self-reported and co-worker reported passive leadership is positively associated with employee burnout and physical symptoms in particular.

Che X Xuan et al. “Stressors beget stressors: the effect of passive leadership on employee health through workload and work-family conflict”. Work & Stress, published online 1 May 2017.

No extra suicide risk among veterans

The risk of suicide is no higher in the long-term among military veterans compared with non-veterans, according to this retrospective 30-year cohort study of 56,205 Scottish veterans and 172,741 non-veterans. There were 267 suicides (0.48%) in the veterans group compared with 918 (0.53%) in the other. However, female veterans had a significantly higher risk of suicide than non-veteran women (hazard ratio of 2.44), meaning that their risk was comparable to veteran men.

“Suicide in Scottish military veterans: a 30-year retrospective cohort study”. Occupational Medicine, published online 9 May 2017.

Doctor burnout and quality of patient care

Doctors reporting high levels of burnout perceive that they provide poorer patient care, according to this study of 416 German doctors. Increasing burnout scores were associated with self-reported poorer patient care, particularly for measures of exhaustion and depersonalisation. The effect was mitigated by employee engagement, so that increasing work engagement was associated with higher perceived quality of care, particularly for vigour and dedication measures of engagement.

Loerbroks A et al. “Physician burnout, work engagement and the quality of patient care”. Occupational Medicine, published online 16 May 2017.

Older construction workers’ lung function

Exposure to vapours, gasses, dusts and fumes while working in the construction industry is associated with an accelerated rate of decline in lung function, according to this study of 3,150 ageing construction workers.

Dement JM et al. “Longitudinal decline in lung function among older construction workers”. Occupational & Environmental Medicine, published online 17 May 2017.

Bullying risk factor for ill-health retirement

Bullying at work significantly increases the risk that an employee retires early on health grounds, according to this study of Norwegian employees. This relationship remains statistically significant even after adjusting for job demands and lack of job control. Women had the highest risk of early ill-health retirement, but both bullied men and women had a higher risk of early retirement due to ill health than non-bullied colleagues.

In practice: workplace interventions to tackle bullying may also reduce the incidence of health-related early retirement, the authors of the study suggest.

Nielsen MB et al. “Workplace bullying as a predictor of disability retirement: a prospective registry study of Norwegian employees”. Journal of Occupational & Environmental Medicine, published 25 April 2017.

Physical work and caesarean delivery

Pregnant women exposed to high physical demands at work have a higher risk of a caesarean delivery, this study of Californian workers finds. Those lifting more than 15 pounds on a day-to-day basis and who were exposed to extreme temperature, high noise and a number of other organisational stressors, including inflexible work schedules, had significantly elevated odds of a caesarean delivery.

Guendelman S et al. “Physical and organizational job stressors in pregnancy and associations with primary cesarean deliveries”. Journal of Occupational & Environmental Medicine, published online 11 May 2017.

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