Occupational health research round-up: April 2015


This month’s round-up of occupational health research looks at predicted return to work of people absent with common mental health disorders, psychological fitness for work and health surveillance and work ability. 

Predicting return to work after absence due to common mental health disorders

Early return to work (RTW) among people off sick with common mental-health disorders is associated with a need to secure their employment situation, according to this study. Conversely, a late RTW (three to 12 months after starting a period of absence) is associated with a variety of factors reflecting an individual employee’s dissatisfaction with working conditions. Health factors were not associated with RTW, either early or late, which highlights the need to consider factors other than health, such as workplace conditions, when designing rehabilitation interventions, the authors suggest.

Ekberg K et al. “Early and late return to work after sick leave: predictors in a cohort of sick-listed individuals with common mental health disorders”. Journal of Occupational Rehabilitation, first published online 30 January 2015.

Psychological fitness for work

Periodic psychological examinations are an effective way of detecting relevant deficits in functioning among train drivers, according to this analysis of the records of 1,266 Belgian drivers. In the sample, 9% of train drivers were referred for extensive psychological examinations, and 1.5% of the total were considered unfit for driving. The most frequent factors behind poor psychological state were sleep disorders, an intolerance of irregular working hours, psychological stress and depression.

De Valck E et al. “Periodic psychological examination of train drivers’ fitness in Belgium: deficits observed and efficacy of the screening procedure”. Journal of Occupational & Environmental Medicine, first published online 13 February 2015.

Pulmonary function and dementia

The association between poor lung function and dementia is reinforced by a new meta-analysis of six UK cohort studies. The analysis finds a dose-response association between poorer lung function and a higher risk of dementia-related death; for example, a person being in the bottom quartile of the distribution for lung function is associated with a doubling of the risk of dementia mortality.

Russ TC et al. “Pulmonary function as a risk factor for dementia death: an individual participant meta-analysis of six UK general population cohort studies”. Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health, first published online 17 February 2015.

Health surveillance and work ability

Workplace health surveillance programmes should include a wide range of non-work variables in order to better predict those employees most at risk of low work ability, according to this study of 230 Dutch meat processing employees. The study finds that systolic blood pressure, a need for recovery and overhead work capacity contributed significantly to variations in individuals’ work ability and functional capacity.

van Holland BJ et al. “Workers’ health surveillance in the meat processing industry: work and health indicators associated with work ability”. Journal of Occupational Rehabilitation, first published online 13 February 2015.

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