Occupational health research round-up: December 2015

Quality of life, in and and out of work, has led to much research in recent years.

This month’s round-up of recent occupational health research looks at new directions for employee wellbeing studies, communicating with employees who have been diagnosed with breast cancer, and the resilience of mental health workers.

Employee wellbeing research

Interest in quality of life issues, both in and beyond the workplace, has exploded in recent years, prompting a proliferation of academic research into the outcomes of interventions designed to promote health at work, for example, engagement and job burnout. Much of this research seeks to explain why employees flourish or become exhausted at work and the impact of health status on individual and organisational performance. In a review, the authors examine the current state of employee wellbeing research and suggest future directions for the field.

Ilies R et al. “Intra-individual models of employee wellbeing: what have we learned and where do we go from here?” European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology, vol. 24, issue 6, 2015.

Breast cancer and workplace communication

Communicating information about a breast cancer diagnosis is an important part of a woman’s workplace experience of living with the illness. Talking about cancer is “challenging but helpful in eliciting necessary social support and accomodations”, according to a qualitative study of 19 employees. A study finds that women are facing a complex interplay of challenges in order to keep a sense of personal control in how people at work respond, for example, around their individual attempts to control how information is shared and the mixed responses of those at work that are told.

In practice: the study provides guidance on managing cancer communication for survivors and how employers can best support workers with breast cancer. A website of resources for designing supportive communication is available.

Robinson L et al. “I wanted you to know: breast cancer survivors’ control of workplace communication about cancer”. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, vol. 20(4), October 2015, pp.446-456.

Resilience and mental health

Resilience is an important element in enabling those working and volunteering in mental health settings to cope with the stress inherent in the role. Allowing staff reasonable control over their work and providing an adequate environment in which to carry it out is conducive to building and sustaining resilience, according to a focus group study of NHS mental health teams and Samaritans volunteers.

In practice: training programmes using aspects of mindfulness, acceptance and commitment therapy may be effective in building and maintaining resilience in mental health workers.

Lamb D and Cogan N. “Coping with work-related stressors and building resilience in mental health workers: a comparative focus group study using interpretive phenomenological analysis”. Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, first published online 11 September 2015.

Burnout in dentistry

Dentists and dental students have a higher risk of burnout than the general population and a literature review seeks to explore why this is the case. The most prevalent and significant factors associated with burnout in the profession are: youth; male gender; student status; high job strain and working hours; and certain personality types. It adds that burnout can develop early in a dentist’s career, but that screening programmes and coping strategies could help to identify and prevent it.

Singh P et al. “Systematic review: factors contributing to burnout in dentistry”. Occupational Medicine, first published online 15 October 2015.

Hearing conservation in metal working

Workplace initiatives designed to conserve the hearing of employees working in relatively high exposure areas can help halt hearing loss, according to a study of employees in the Australian aluminium industry. Deterioration in hearing, measured in “hearing shift rates”, fell among the participants from 5.5% a year in 2006 to 1.3% a year in 2013, leading the authors to conclude that “these initiatives could be deployed relatively easily and at modest cost in other industries with noise-exposed employees”.

Donoghue AM et al. “Hearing conservation in the primary aluminium industry”. Occupational Medicine, first published online 15 October 2015.

Asthma and wood processing

Employment in wood processing is associated with a significantly increased risk of respiratory symptoms and asthma, according to a systematic review. However, there is less clear evidence that wood dust exposure causes impaired lung function, the analysis of 55 articles concludes.

Wiggans RE et al. “Asthma in furniture and wood processing workers: a systematic review”. Occupational Medicine, first published online 15 October 2015.

Hepatitis C in health workers

The prevalence of viral hepatitis C is significantly higher in healthcare workers than in the general population, according to a systematic review of research published between 1989 and 2014. The occupational risk facing healthcare workers as a group was 1.6, but the risks facing medical and laboratory staff was higher, at 2.2. Professionals with a high risk of blood contact as part of their work had an even higher risk factor of 2.7.

Westermann C et al. “The prevalence of hepatitis C among healthcare workers: a systematic review and meta-analysis”. Occupational & Environmental Medicine, first published online 5 October 2015.

Military service and motor neurone disease

A study confirms a previously established link between motor neurone disease and military service, although the absolute risk is very low. Using data from the Scottish Veterans Health Study, researchers found that the identified increased risk is independent of birth cohort, length or period of service, conflict, or year of recruitment, but is associated with a history of trauma or road-traffic accident (but suggests that further studies are needed in this area).

Bergman BP et al. “Motor neurone disease and military service: evidence from the Scottish Veterans Health Study”. Occupational & Environmental Medicine, first published online 14 October 2015.

US wellness programme works

A wellness programme targeted at reducing the risk of metabolic syndrome produced average reductions in healthcare costs of $122 per participant per month, according to this study of an initiative operated by US-health insurer, Aetna. In the first year of the programme’s operation, three-quarters of participating employees lost an average of 10 pounds and there were also improved clinical outcomes in three out of five identified metabolic factors. The year-long programme included limited genetic profiling, traditional psychosocial assessment and high-intensity coaching in a randomised controlled study of Aetna employees at increased risk of developing metabolic syndrome.

Steinberg G et al. “Reducing metabolic syndrome risk using a personalised wellness program”. Journal of Occupational & Environmental Medicine, first published online 15 October 2015.

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