Occupational health research round-up: August 2014


In our monthly update on key research studies on workplace health, Sarah Silcox summarises new findings on issues including the cancer risks of metalwork fluids and how stress can cause eczema.

Doctors under-report their own sickness absence

Doctors under-report their own sick leave, according to a comparative analysis of self- and employer-reported sickness absence periods lasting four days or more occurring in two consecutive six-month periods. Self-reported absence among the 607 doctors in the sample was 1.2%, compared with a rate of 0.6% obtained from employer data.

Murphy  IJ. “Self-reported and employer-recorded sickness absence in doctors”. Occupational Medicine, first published online 2 July 2014.

Metalworking fluids increase bladder cancer risk

Exposure to metalworking fluids (MWFs) is associated with a significantly increased bladder cancer risk, according to a case-control study of New England workers. The risk was 1.7 times higher among workers using straight MWFs, but also significantly higher among those using soluble MWFs. Non-metalworkers in jobs with possible exposure to mineral oil also had a 40% increased risk of bladder cancer, adjusting for smoking and other factors.

Colt JS et al. “A case-control study of occupational exposure to metalworking fluids and bladder cancer risk among men”. Occupational & Environmental Medicine, first published online 20 June 2014.

Stress a factor in occupational hand eczema

Chronic stress is an additional risk factor for occupational hand eczema (OHE), according to a study of 122 patients. OHE symptoms were more severe among patients experiencing greater stress and burnout, with women reporting higher levels of chronic stress on some measures. There was a correlation between sickness absence and individual measures of job-related stress, and with an overall measure of chronic stress, prompting the authors to recommend that: “prevention and rehabilitation should take job stress into consideration in multidisciplinary treatment strategies for severely affected OHE patients”.

Bohm D et al. “Severe occupational hand eczema, job stress and cumulative sickness absence”. Occupational Medicine, first published online 2 July 2014.

Firefighters at higher risk of cancer

Firefighters have a high risk of contracting mesothelioma, according to two recent studies reviewed in this analysis. It concludes that the raised incidence ratio is likely to be due to asbestos exposure occurring when buildings burn, during clean-up operations and also possibly as a result of the asbestos protective gear which used to be widely worn by the profession. Firefighters are likely to have been particularly exposed in the 30-year period between 1940 and 1970, when worldwide production of asbestos rose rapidly. Due to the long latency period between exposure to asbestos and the development of mesothelioma, many of these cases are only just emerging, the study suggests.

Fritschi  DL. “Firefighters and cancer: where are we and where to now?” Occupational & Environmental Medicine, first published online 4 July 2014.

Adjustments key to keeping staff with mental illness in work

Workplace adjustments are important in helping workers with mental ill health stay in employment, but our understanding of how existing equality legislation applies to this group is weak, according to a literature review. The most commonly reported work-related adjustments used for workers with mental ill health are flexible working and reduced hours, modified training and supervision, and modified job duties or descriptions. The least common are physical modifications to the workplace. There is limited evidence from these studies of an association between workplace adjustments and longer job tenure.

McDowell C, Fossey E. “Workplace accommodations for people with mental illness: a scoping review”. Journal of Occupational Rehabilitation, first published online May 2014.

Public sector favours physical activity to promote health

Public-sector employees prefer health promotion interventions involving physical activity, irrespective of individual risk-related lifestyle factors such as smoking, according to a study of more than 3,000 Australians. Overall, employees choose health change targets that are relevant to their respective health behaviours; the most frequently selected were related to physical activity, diet and weight. Employee perceptions of what they need to change about their health broadly correspond to their health-related behaviours, weight and stress levels.

Kilpatrick M et al. “Workplace health promotion: what public sector employees want, need and are ready to change”. Journal of Occupational & Environmental Medicine, first published online 21 May 2014.

Violence against teachers leads to exit of profession, study shows

Although teachers and other workers experience relatively few serious physical assaults at work, the impact of this violence is considerable, according to a study of US employees. Teachers of children with special needs, those working in cities and those in the first three years of employment are at greatest risk of being assaulted. Most assaults do not require medical attention or time off work, but those assaulted are significantly more likely to subsequently find work stressful, have low job satisfaction and consider leaving the profession, the study of 2,514 workers finds.

Tiesman HM et al. “Physical assaults among education workers: findings from a statewide study”. Journal of Occupational & Environmental Medicine, first published online 21 May 2014.

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