Research news round-up

Occupational Health’s regular round-up of OH-related research.

Bullying shifts the meaning of work

Women experience a change in their perception of the meaning of work as a result of being subjected to workplace bullying, according to a study based on interviews with 21 female healthcare workers – an occupational group identified as 16 times more likely to experience bullying than the workforce as a whole.

The women addressed this change in perception using a three-stage process, including developing insight, resisting the change and rebuilding.

The last stage involves adapting and modifying approaches to work by coming to terms with it, adjusting work attitudes and investing in “self”. The study goes on to identify implications of this process of shifting the meaning of work for managing women’s health and work.

Workplace bullying in health care affects the meaning of work, MacIntosh J et al, Qualitative Health Research, 20(8), pp.1 ,128-1,141.

Workplace advice visits cost £2,192 each

Each workplace visit made as part of the Healthy Workplaces Milton Keynes pilot advice service cost an average of £2,192, according to an evaluation.

The pilot was a partnership set-up between the HSE and the local authority and was designed to test a modified version of the now-defunct Workplace Health Connect (WHC) model of providing free OH advice and support to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).

The authors of the evaluation conclude that the cost of the Milton Keynes pilot was higher than expected due partly to low take-up – the initial target for visits was 400 over a 12-month period, but this was revised down to 200 to 250. The pilot demonstrates that most SME OH concerns are relatively basic, and could be addressed by lower-qualified staff than those employed under WHC.

The authors conclude that SME needs might be met through a less resource-intensive approach, or by helping employers to use existing sources of support such as the HSE Infoline. In addition, employers accessing the pilot were likely to be among the more engaged SMEs, so that there is “still a need to find ways to engage less motivated SMEs with improving health and safety provision in the workplace,” the report concludes.

Healthy workplaces Milton Keynes Pilot: evaluation findings, Lucy D et al, HSE research report no. 809.

Mainstreaming OSH

Organisations deal with occupational safety and health (OSH) in different ways, and only the most proactive integrate it into the organisation’s overall business management, according to this review published by the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work.

Some employers have little expertise in the area and tend to react to problems such as accidents and work-related disease and absence in ad hoc ways, the agency concludes. The review aims to provide evidence and information on how OSH can be built into general management to foster safer and healthier working environments, and better organisational performance.

Mainstreaming OSH into business management, European Agency for Safety and Health at Work.

Attitudes and barriers to HIV-positive employees

Just over a quarter of HIV patients in this study of people attending the Royal Free HIV outpatients department were unemployed, and 53% of this group had been so for more than five years. Those diagnosed as HIV positive for more than 10 years, those with poor psychological health and those with poor attitudes to employment were more likely to be out of work.

There was no such association between objective measures of health (an individual’s CD4 count) and employment status. HIV-positive people not working were less likely to agree with statements such as “work is good for physical and mental health” but were more likely to agree that they should only work if 100% fit and well.

The authors argue that opportunities exist for HIV services to provide psychological support to help HIV-positive people obtain and retain work.

Attitudes and barriers to employment in HIV-positive patients, Rodger A J et al, Occupational Medicine 2010 60(6), pp.423-429.

Working with arthritis

Workers with arthritis are able to continue in employment, but at reduced capacity, according to this Canadian study that looked at two measures of work productivity – absence, and reduced activity while at work (presenteeism).

Regression analysis was used to examine the association between these two productivity outcomes and four different condition positions: no chronic conditions; arthritis only; any chronic condition other than arthritis; and arthritis coupled with other conditions. Workers with arthritis only were eight times more likely to exhibit presenteeism at work than those without any condition but not more likely to be absent.

Work productivity among employed Canadians with arthritis, Zhang Wei MA et al, Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, published online first 25 August 2010.

Lead exposure falls

Occupational exposure to lead fell across UK industries between 1995 and 2007, but remains “substantially” above background levels, according to this study evaluating blood lead data from 8,810 workers at 972 sites collected by the Health and Safety Laboratory. Cuts in median blood lead levels were seen in every sector, except for those samples forwarded by OH providers, ranging from annual cuts of 1.6% in the smelting industry to 12% a year for workers in pottery and glazing industries.

In practice, although exposure to lead has fallen, there is evidence that many workers continue to be exposed to elevated levels over a long period of time, and this deserves renewed consideration now that inorganic lead has been reclassified as a probable human carcinogen, the authors suggest.

Trends in blood lead levels in UK workers 1995-2007, Morton, Jackie et al, Occupational and Environmental Medicine 2010; 67: pp.590-595.

Exercise, not diet, key to cutting absence

Physical activity and sports both attenuate the positive relationship between absence and an employee’s status as overweight or obese. But “remarkably”, the authors suggest, the degree to which an individual was overweight is more strongly related to augmented absence in people with higher levels of dieting.

The authors suggest that health promotion professionals should consider focusing on stimulating physical activity, rather than promoting dieting, in order to reduce absence in overweight employees.

How do physical activity, sports and dietary restraint relate to overweight-associated absenteeism, Van Strien, Tatjana PhD; Koenders, Paul MD, PhD, Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, published online first 25 August 2010.

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