This month’s crop of occupational health research papers includes a study showing the value of exercising mindfulness at work, the role of counselling in tackling sedentary behaviour, and the occupational health risks of nanotechnology.
Mindfulness acts as stress buffer
Exercising mindfulness at work and home buffers the negative relationship between workplace demands and psychological detachment after work. This is one of the findings of a diary-based study of the stressor-detachment model. According to this model, emotional and workload demands at work should be associated with decreased psychological detachment after work, which in turn is associated with lower wellbeing at bedtime. The study demonstrates the buffering role of daily mindfulness within the stressor-detachment model and highlights the value of considering mindfulness in both the work and home setting: “promoting mindfulness both in the work and home domain can help employees psychologically detach from work despite high job demands”, the authors conclude.
V C Haun et al. “Being mindful at work and at home: buffering effects in the stressor-detachment model”,, Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, published online 7 January 2018.
Evidence-based practice and management
Most managers are positive about the concept of evidence-based practice (EBP) but do not apply it due to a lack of time and a limited understanding of the scientific research with which they are presented. These are the findings of a survey of 2,789 managers in Europe, the USA and Australia; the survey commentary also concludes that relatively little research exists on the use of EBP in management, especially when compared with medicine and nursing professions.
E Barends et al. “Managerial attitudes and perceived barriers regarding evidence-based practice: an international study,” PLOSOne, published online 3 October 2017.
Customer mistreatment of employees
The positive intervention of human resources (HR) practitioners, for example, by offering training to employees in customer-facing roles, can help protect these staff from the effects of verbal abuse and other customer mistreatment, according to this study of 730 service sector employees. Mistreatment by customers (including verbal abuse) was less likely to be related to emotional exhaustion in those teams where employees were provided with more opportunities to participate at work, the study finds. The authors suggest that the job demands-resources model might provide an overarching framework to understand the role of HR management practices in reducing the impact of customer mistreatment.
X Hu et al, “Employees’ reactions to customer mistreatment: the moderating role of human resource management practices”, Work & Stress, vol 32, issue 1, 2018, pp49-67.
Takotsubo cardiomyopathy and workplace bullying
Chronic workplace bullying has the potential to precipitate Takotsubo cardiomyopathy (TC) in targeted employees, according to this case study. TC is a condition involving transient dysfunction in the left ventricular, brought on by acute physical or emotional stress. TC is not well understood, but it is known to predominantly affect post-menopausal women in the context of physical or emotional triggers. In the case study, a 48-year-old woman lawyer developed acute chest pain after experiencing significant emotional distress at a workplace meeting following 18 months of rising mental stress. A diagnosis of TC was made after an initial one of myocardial infarction.
H Malik et al. “Takotsubo cardiomyopathy associated with workplace bullying”, Occupational Medicine, published online 17 January 2018.
Academic presenteeism is rife
Presenteeism – going to work when sick – is common in UK colleges and universities, according to this study of 6,874 academics. Risk factors for working when sick include high job demands, low job control poor support from managers and high levels of work engagement. Almost 90% of academics in the study reported working while sick at least once.
G Kinman et al. “Presenteeism in academic employees – occupational and individual factors”, Occupational Medicine, published online 17 January 2018.
Counselling helps cut sedentary work behaviour
A workplace intervention combining behavioural counselling and the self-management of pain helps reduce the time employees with low back pain (LBP) spend sitting at their desks, this randomised controlled trial finds. Time spent sitting at work fell by 1.5 hours a day over a six-month period amongst the group receiving the intervention compared to the control. At the six-month point, this group also reported a 50% fall in disability (using the Oswestry Disability Index), compared with a 14% fall in the control group. The authors conclude the intervention is a translatable treatment strategy, showing promise for the treatment of chronic LBP in desk-bound employees.
A second study of 2,572 Japanese workers finds that cutting employees’ sedentary behaviour may improve levels of engagement and productivity. It finds that around 70% of all work days involved sedentary behaviour, or around 43 hours a week on average. Work-related sedentary behaviour was associated with low work vigour and engagement amongst those aged 40-59 and low efficiency amongst younger workers.
B Barone Gibbs et al. “Reducing sedentary behaviour to decrease chronic low back pain: the stand back randomised trial”, Occupational & Environmental Medicine, published online 12 January 2018.
K Ishii et al. “Work engagement, productivity and self-reported work-related sedentary behaviour amongst Japanese adults: a cross-sectional study”, Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, published online 26 December 2017.
Multidisciplinary rehabilitation and MSDs
A rehabilitation model using multidisciplinary team assessments and multimodal interventions (TEAM) is more effective in improving the self-efficacy of women on long-term sick leave due to musculoskeletal disorders than either: the use of acceptance and commitment therapy, or a control, this study finds. Data were collected on the women’s self-efficacy before the intervention and at the six and 12-month points, and the results show that during the intervention period, the women in the TEAM group reported a mean increase in self-efficacy from 2.29 to 2.74.
Å Andersén et al. “Strengthened general self-efficacy with multidisciplinary vocational rehabilitation in women on long-term sick leave: a randomised controlled trial”, Journal of Occupational Rehabilitation, published online 9 January 2018.
Risks in nanotechnology
Occupational health and safety professionals know little about how nanomaterials are used in construction or demolition, despite predictions that up to half of new building products may contain nanomaterials by 2025. A project sponsored by the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health has researched what is known about the prevalence of the materials, potential risks and how workers in the affected sectors might manage the risks. For example, some long and very thin strands of nanomaterial – used in a range of products from self-cleaning windows to very high strength concrete – might act like asbestos if they float freely in the environment and are inhaled. Dr Wendy Jones of Loughborough University said: “With this research we aimed to get a clearer picture of the current status of nanomaterials used in the construction industry and to bring this information to relevant audiences in a practical way. We also hoped to debunk some controversy and misunderstanding about nanomaterials and their risks… Risk only arises if workers are exposed to certain nanoparticles or nanofibers in the form of dusts or aerosols; this might occur during construction or demolition activities.”
Loughborough University for IOSH, “Nanotechnology in construction and demolition: what we know, what we don’t” https://www.iosh.co.uk/nanotechnology