Occupational health research round-up May 2015

fit note

This month’s round-up of recent occupational health research studies looks at how rates at which patients are signed off work sick since the fit note was introduced and yoga and physical fitness, among other topics. 

Fit notes and certification rates

The rate at which GPs certified patients with work-related ill health as sick fell by 41% in the second year after the introduction of the “fit note” in 2010, according to an analysis of 5,517 cases. Almost one-fifth of patients received advice on possible workplace adjustments. However, in the third year after the fit note’s introduction, the proportion of cases certified by GPs as sick increased, meaning that the overall fall over the three-year period was not significant. The authors conclude: “Trends analyses showed a slight decrease in the certification rate, possibly indicating GPs will become more practised in advising on workplace adjustments.”

Hussey L et al. “Has the fit note reduced general practice sickness certification rates?” Occupational Medicine, first published online 3 March 2015.

“Illegitimate” tasks are source of work stress

Having to perform unnecessary or unreasonable tasks at work, including ones that imply a threat to an employee’s professional identity, are a potential source of stress, according to a review of three studies. In two of the studies, these “illegitimate” tasks were a predictor of low self-esteem, feelings of resentment towards the employing organisation and burnout, even after controlling for other typical sources of stress such as role conflict. A third study demonstrated that illegitimate tasks predicted job strain, rather than being predicted by it. The authors conclude that: “Illegitimate tasks represent an aspect of job design that deserves more attention, both in research and in decisions about task assignments.”

Semmer NK et al. “Illegitimate tasks as a source of work stress”. Work & Stress, vol.29(1), 2015.

Yoga and physical fitness

An eight-week course of modified hatha yoga aided the physical fitness of employees with work-related injuries but had little impact on levels of stress, according to a small-scale study. The yoga course was delivered in hourly sessions, three times per week for an eight-week period, and significant improvements in flexibility of lower back and hamstrings, hand grip strength and vital capacity were noted among the intervention group. However, stress scores did not change as a result of the sessions.

Rachiwong S et al. “Effects of modified Hatha yoga in industrial rehabilitation on physical fitness and stress of injured workers”. Journal of Occupational Rehabilitation, first published online 11 March 2015.

Noise and vibration

This study of mining and forestry workers seeks to determine whether or not hearing impairment sustained through exposure to noise at work is worse in those with vibration white finger (VWF). More than 15,000 vibration-exposed workers were identified and those with VWF had significantly worse hearing at every frequency studied, compared with others without the condition. This supports the association between combined noise and hand-arm vibration exposure and work-related hearing loss.

Turcot A et al. “Noise-induced hearing loss and combined noise and vibration exposure”. Occupational Medicine, first published online 10 March 2015.

CBT and employee engagement

Internet-based cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is effective in increasing employees’ engagement levels, according to a Japanese study. A six-week, six-lesson CBT programme, using comic-book stories, was provided to an intervention group of 381 employees; engagement was assessed at baseline, plus three and plus six months. The programme showed a significant effect on the engagement of employees in the intervention group compared with the control group.

Imamura K et al. “Effects of an internet-based cognitive behavioural therapy intervention on improving work engagement and other workrelated outcomes: an analysis of secondary outcomes of a randomised controlled trial”. Journal of Occupational & Environmental Medicine, first published online 5 March 2015.

Obesity and psychosocial factors

High job demands and low worksite social support are associated with obesity in men, while in women, stress-related eating and drinking and physical inactivity seems to promote obesity. These are the findings of a Finnish study examining the associations between occupational psychosocial factors and obesity among 31-year-olds, adjusting for adolescent body mass, the physical nature of work and adverse health behaviours.

Jaaskelainen J et al. “Psychosocial factors at work and obesity among young Finnish adults: a cohort study”. Journal of Occupational & Environmental Medicine, first published online 19 March 2015.

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