Occupational health research round-up: April 2018

Shift worker
A history of paternal heart disease can increase shift work risk, research has concluded

Paternal heart disease increases shift work risk

Paternal mortality from myocardial infarction or sudden cardiac death interacts with shift work to increase the risk of cardiac problems in men, according to this case-control analysis. When both shiftwork and parental mortality are present, the risk of myocardial infarction in men increases 2.39-fold, the study suggests.

Hermansson J et al. “Shift work, parental cardiovascular disease and myocardial infarction in males”. Occupational Medicine, published online 10 February, 2018

Carbon monoxide risk in wood pellet storerooms

Carbon monoxide is the leading cause of mortality from unintentional poisoning in Slovenia, according to a study in the journal Occupational Medicine. The research concluded that carbon monoxide levels can often rise in wood pellet storerooms because of chemical degradation of pellets, even at room temperature. The research was prompted by paramedics and firefighters being called to help an unconscious man in a wood pellet storeroom. Victims were evacuated and the paramedics began cardiopulmonary resuscitation. Soon after, rescuers complained of dizziness and developed headache, nausea and fatigue, and a carbon monoxide level of 600 ppm was detected. Three rescuers were treated with 100% oxygen. Blood carboxyhaemoglobin levels were up to 8% on arrival at the emergency department. The victim died and autopsy confirmed carbon monoxide poisoning.

First responders therefore need to be aware of the dangers of carbon monoxide in wood pellet storerooms. Basic precautions and safety instructions should be followed before entering a wood pellet storeroom, they advised. Carbon monoxide should be measured before entering and self-contained breathing apparatus should be used. Wood pellet storerooms require continuous ventilation and should be equipped with carbon monoxide detectors.

Golob N et al. “Carbon monoxide poisoning in wood pellet storerooms.” Occupational Medicine, published online 17 February, 2018, https://doi.org/10.1093/occmed/kqy023

Scottish workplace scheme aids rehabilitation

A Scottish scheme to support the health of employees in small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) is aiding effective rehabilitation, according to an evaluation. Working Health Services Scotland (WHSS) supports the self-employed and workers in SMEs with a health condition who are absent, or at risk of being absent, return to work, according to a four-year evaluation of 13,463 referrals to the scheme.

It found that more than three-quarters of those using the scheme had a musculoskeletal condition and 12% were referred with mental health conditions. Almost a fifth of those referred (18%) were off sick at the point of referral but back at work at discharge from the scheme. The actual number of days off sick amongst those taking part in the WHSS scheme varied according to age, length of absence prior to starting the programme, the primary health condition and time in the scheme. All health measures used in the evaluation showed significant improvements from entry in WHSS to discharge. Improvements in general health were sustained at the three and six-month follow-up points.

Demou E et al. “Working Health Services Scotland: a 4-year evaluation”. Occupational Medicine, published online 30 January, 2018.

Social class key in sickness absence due to MSDs

Social class plays an important part in determining recovery and return-to-work following time off because of musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs), according to this Finnish study. Within the studied MSD cases, the most common causes of absence were back pain and shoulder disorders. Osteoarthritis, disc disorders and rheumatoid arthritis induced the longest episodes of absence.

Clear differences in absence, both in terms of the number of spells and duration, were found in relation to social class for all causes of MSDs. The largest class-related differences in terms of the number of spells of absence were observed in cases related to shoulder disorders and back pain. Class differences in the duration of absence were greatest for cases related to rheumatoid arthritis, disc disorders and (among men) in hip osteoarthritis. The authors conclude that: “Occupational class and diagnosis should be considered when attempting to reduce sickness absence due to MSDs.”

Pekkala J et al. “Sickness absence due to different musculoskeletal diagnoses by occupational class: a register-based study among 1.2 million Finnish employees”. Occupational & Environmental Medicine, published online 30 January, 2018.

Violence at work in the digital economy

The International Labour Organization’s Bureau for Workers’ Activities and the University of Leicester are conducting research into the psychosocial risks that workers in the digital economy face. The research published so far highlights the ways in which new technologies are used to manage employees, many of whom in the digital sector no longer work in traditional offices and factories but rather in the streets and their own homes. This new-style management, the authors suggest, often uses algorithmic management, wearable tracking technology and people analytics, and carries with it the risk of violence and harassment, the lead researcher on the project, Dr Phoebe Moore, has suggested.

Moore P. “The Threat of Physical and Psychosocial Violence and Harassment in Digitalized Work”, http://www.ilo.org/actrav/info/pubs/WCMS_617062/lang–en/index.htm

Serious injuries at work in education

The number of work-related serious injuries suffered by education workers has increased by 24% in the past five years, according to figures obtained under a Freedom of Information request by the GMB union. In 2016/17, 477 assaults were reported to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) by early years’ providers, schools, colleges and universities. This was up nearly a quarter on the 385 cases reported in 2012/13. A total of 10% of serious injuries suffered by education workers reported to the HSE last year were caused by acts of violence, up from 8% in 2012/13. In total, 385 education workers were so badly injured at work that they took more than seven days off work in 2016/17, the GMB-acquired figures suggest.

“Serious Injuries To Education Workers Shoot Up”, http://www.gmb.org.uk/newsroom/education-injuries-shoot-up

Psychosocial working conditions within education

Levels of stress-related sickness absence within the UK education sector remain some of the highest of any occupation, yet investigations of psychosocial working conditions that can contribute to stress, including behaviour of students and parents, has not been conducted, a study has argued. To investigate the psychosocial working conditions and prevalence of negative parental and student behaviour in a large sample of school teachers and college lecturers based in England, the researchers carried out a cross-sectional survey of teachers in England. Respondents completed the Management Standards Indicator Tool (MSIT), Perceived Stress Scale (PSS-4), Student Behaviour Scale and a two-item measure of parental behaviour.

Differences in these measures across different teaching roles were then assessed using analysis of variance. Regression analyses were also used to evaluate the association of MSIT, student and parental behaviour on PSS outcomes. Compared to UK benchmark scoring, psychosocial working conditions were found to be at a poor level, with primary teachers in particular exposed to negative parental behaviours, and secondary teachers to poor student behaviour. Demands were consistently associated with perceived stress outcomes across job roles, although management support and relationships with peers also played a part. The demands faced by teachers in England played an important part in the experience of stress, the researchers concluded. Interventions to reduce these demands, and the high frequencies of negative pupil and parental behaviours, should therefore be considered, they added.

Ravalier, J M et al. “Working conditions and stress in the English education system.” Occupational Medicine, published online 17 February 2018, https://doi.org/10.1093/occmed/kqy017

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