Occupational Health research round-up: February 2015

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

This month’s round-up of recent research in the occupational health sphere includes studies of lifetime shift work exposure, mindfulness and work-life balance and the effect of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) among employees who are victims of bank robberies. 

Lifetime shift work exposure

The association of lifetime shift exposure with cardiac regulation and blood pressure suggests that shift work promotes unfavourable changes in autonomic cardiac control related to a decrease in parasympathetic modulation and an increase in blood pressure, according to a study of 438 male shift workers.

Souza BB et al. “Lifetime shift work exposure: association with anthropometry, body composition, blood pressure, glucose and heart rate variability”. Occupational & Environmental Medicine, first published online 24 December 2014.

 Mindfulness helps work-life balance

An intervention involving teaching workers to practice mindfulness can help promote work-life balance, according to a study evaluating the effects of a three-week online self-training programme. At a two-week follow-up, those participating in the intervention reported significantly less strain-based work-family conflict and significantly more psychological detachment and satisfaction with their work-life balance than a control group. This finding prompted study authors to conclude that “voluntary organisational health and work-life balance programmes should include low-cost but effective brief mindfulness interventions”.

Michel A et al. “Mindfulness as a cognitive-emotional segmentation strategy: an intervention promoting work-life balance”. Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, vol. 87, issue 4, pp.733-754.

Post-traumatic stress disorder among bank employees

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is common among employee victims of bank robberies, according to a study of workers joining an employer-sponsored post-robbery support programme. The programme entailed a structured support interview for the employee within 15 days of the robbery and a follow-up psychological assessment after 45 days, at which point 13% of participants showed symptoms of PTSD. Individuals’ personal perceptions of the robbery’s severity, and their early emotional reaction, were important variables in identifying those at higher risk of developing PTSD.

Fichera GP et al. “Post-traumatic stress disorder among bank employee victims of robbery”. Occupational Medicine, first published online 20 December 2014.

Job insecurity and wellbeing

An employee’s perception of control at work helps explain the negative effect of job insecurity on emotional exhaustion, according to a study of 536 Flemish workers. Job insecurity enhances emotional exhaustion by reducing employees’ feelings of control, so that “interventions providing employees with a sense of control, such as communication programmes and measures that promote participative decision-making may provide a deterrent to this effect”, the authors conclude. They go on to suggest that measures such as job redesign may help increase perceptions of control, which, in turn, make employees less vulnerable to stressors.

Elst TV et al. “On the reciprocal relationship between job insecurity and employee wellbeing: mediation by perceived control?” Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, vol. 87, issue 4, pp.671-693.

Falling asleep at the wheel

High numbers of professional drivers experience fatigue during their work, and falling asleep at the wheel (FAW) is a major risk factor in accidents and near misses. In a study of 497 Italian drivers, 41% experienced at least one episode per month of sudden-onset sleep at the wheel. The risk of experiencing an FAW event increased with age, travelling more than 40,000 miles per year for work and having a body mass index of at least 30.

Rosso GL et al. “Falling asleep at the wheel among Italian professional drivers (PDs): results from the HiRis PD study”. International Journal of Occupational Medicine and Environmental Health, first published online 10 December 2014.

Sensory impairment and accidents at work

Problems with vision, hearing impairments and balance disorders may carry moderately increased risks of occupational injury, an analysis of the UK Clinical Practice Research Datalink suggests. The analysis covers 1,348 working-age patients who consulted medical services over a 22-year period for workplace injury and compared their risks with 6,652 controls. Just over 2% of participants had an eye problem, 9.9% an ear problem, and 3.3% a balance disorder before subsequently consulting medical services following an accident at work.

No associations were found between a number of specific eye and ear conditions (such as glaucoma, cataracts and perforated ear drums) and workplace accidents, but the occupational risks were moderately elevated for eye and ear problems more generally, and were higher where the individual had a record of blindness or partial sight. Occupational risks for disorders of balance were particularly high among those who had consulted medical services for their condition within 12 months of their subsequent consultation following an occupational injury.

Palmer KT et al. “Sensory impairments, problems of balance and accidental injury at work: a case-control study”. Occupational & Environmental Medicine, first published online 18 December 2014.

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