Occupational health research round-up: June 2016

3D printers emit nanoparticles and daily exposure to them could risk employees' health, a study says.

This month’s round-up of occupational health research includes studies on ventilation and 3D printers and disclosing mental health problems in the workplace.

Ventilation and 3D printers

Tabletop 3D printers emit nanoparticles into the indoor air, according to this study by the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health. The report adds that, although it is not harmful to print in 3D every once in a while, the emissions 3D printers produce should be recognised and attempts made to mitigate them in places where people are exposed to printing on a daily basis. Raising the temperature used to extrude the thermoplastics in 3D printers increases the emissions significantly.

Research scientist Anna-Kaisa Viitanen said: “Exposure can be reduced by acquiring an encased printer that has been designed with emission management in mind, by avoiding staying in the same room with a printer for longer periods of time or, most reliably, by directing the emissions out of the indoor air… We also need to be careful with the printing materials and only use the plastics that have been designed for the particular purpose.”

Good ventilation should be ensured when using tabletop 3D printers

Disclosing mental health problems at work

Only 35% of employees who have experienced mental health problems talk to their managers about the issue, according to research from consultant, Willis PMI Group. The main reason employees do not disclose mental ill health is out of fear that job security and promotion will be jeopardised. One third are concerned that they would not receive adequate support if they disclosed mental ill health, while just less than 30% are concerned that managers would not understand the illness. Mike Blake, director at Willis PMI Group said: “mental illness remains an incredibly delicate subject and one that requires urgent attention from employers in order to better manage staff wellbeing and sickness absence… The proper recording of sickness and absence related to mental health is a crucial first step in tackling the problem, but this can only happen if staff are assured they can report issues in confidentiality and without judgement.”

PMI Health Group

NMW eases depression symptoms

Low-paid workers who started to be paid the national minimum wage (NMW) when it was introduced in April 1999 reported a decline in symptoms of depression for at least 22 months afterwards, according to this study. The study examines changes in health – using a general health questionnaire – among those who received an increase in earnings as a result of the NMW with those who did not receive any pay increase, for example, because they already received a wage just above the new minimum. The improvements in mental health in those observed “were equivalent to the effect estimated for taking antidepressants”, the authors conclude. However, the study finds no evidence that wage rises as a result of the introduction of the NMW led to increases in health damaging behaviours or a reduction in hours worked among those affected.

Reeves A et al.“Introduction of a national minimum wage reduced depressive symptoms in low-wage workers: a quasi-natural experiment in the UK”, Health Economics, first published online 4 April 2016.

Transformational managers and sickness absence

The relationship between transformational managers and sickness absence in their teams is complex. For example, such leaders may promote a group climate at work that increases staff absence, especially among employees with high levels of ­presenteeism. This study of postal workers in Denmark suggests that transformational leaders may promote self-sacrifice among those prone to presenteeism by leading them to work while ill, resulting in an increased risk of sickness absence in the long term.

Nielsen K and Daniels K. “The relationship between transformational leadership and follower sickness absence: the role of presenteeism”, Work & Stress, first published online 21 April 2016.

Abusive supervision and team performance

Managers who experience psychological distress at work are more likely to use abusive supervision techniques, transferring their distress to those they manage, according to this study. Further, the positive association between a manager’s distress and abusive supervision is stronger when the team’s performance is lower.

Li Y et al. “The crossover of psychological distress from leaders to subordinates in teams: the role of abusive supervision, psychological capital and team performance”. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, volume 21(2). April 2016, pp.142-153.

Working with anxiety

Some people with anxiety disorders may be able to maintain strong performance at work while experiencing an elevated level of anxiety, this survey-based study of Australian government employees suggests. The research suggests that adaptations and accommodations at work can improve the productivity of employees with anxiety disorders by keeping stress at a manageable level.

Mellifont D et al. “Pitching a Yerkes-Dodson curve ball? A study exploring enhanced workplace performance for individuals with anxiety disorders”. Journal of Workplace Behavioral Health, vol. 31, issue 2, 2016.

Work ability and type 1 diabetes

Work-related factors, such as high job demands and low control, are associated with poor work ability in employees with type 1 diabetes (T1D), according to this survey-based research in Finland. Physical work and low worktime control were significantly linked to poor work ability in men but not in women with T1D. A self-reported high value of glycosylated haemoglobin was the only diabetes-related variable associated with poor work ability in men and women, the study concludes.

Hakkarainen P et al. “Work ability among Finnish workers with type 1 diabetes”. Occupational Medicine first published online 16 April 2016.

Health surveillance and asthma

Health surveillance for occupational asthma in the UK is patchy and variable, according to this survey of 457 organisations in three high-risk sectors (bakeries, wood working and motor vehicle repair). About two-thirds of the organisations surveyed carry out risk assessments for occupational asthma and 19% of those reporting asthma hazards carry out some form of health surveillance. Surveillance tools are generally developed in-house, most commonly including lung function testing. However, only limited interpretation of lung function testing was evident and the referral of workers to local specialist respiratory services was variable. The authors recommend that more evidence-based approaches to health surveillance should be developed to ensure maximum consistency and adoption of high-quality approaches.

Fishwick D et al.“Health surveillance for occupational asthma in the UK”. Occupational Medicine, first published online 16 April 2016.

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