Occupational health research round-up: November 2015

occupational health research
An intervention promoting sun safety made positive changes in workers’ practices.

This month’s round-up of occupational health research studies includes a report on improvements in sun safety among UK construction workers and findings on links between wood dust and cancer.   

Sun safety in construction

An educational intervention designed to promote sun safety in the UK construction sector was followed by positive changes in workers’ self-reported sun safety practices, according to a study. The survey-based research shows that the group of 70 workers receiving the intervention demonstrated significant positive change on nine out of 10 behavioural measures tested, with the greatest change being their use of a shade or cover when working in the sun.

Houdmont J et al. “Sun safety in construction: a UK intervention study”. Occupational Medicine, first published online 26 September 2015.

Depression and psychological working conditions

Bank workers can be exposed to violence and stress at work, which can lead to adverse psychological health outcomes, including symptoms of depression. A study found that psychological conditions in banking, including high strain, low social support at work and over commitment, may represent risk factors for developing depressive symptoms. An analysis of more than 1,000 Brazilian bank employees found that 32% reported symptoms of depression, with no statistically significant difference between men and women.

Valente MSS et al. “Depressive symptoms and psychological aspects of work in bank employees”. Occupational Medicine, first published online 28 September 2015.

Wood dust and lung cancer

Occupational lung cancers are a major health burden due to their rising prevalence and poor long-term outcomes, according to a study that aims to clarify the association through meta-analysis.

It provides strong evidence for an association between wood dust and lung cancer, but adds that this finding is critically influenced by the geographic region of the studies examined. For example, it notes that a reduced risk of lung cancer was observed in studies in Nordic countries, where softwood is the primary exposure. The authors conclude that “the reasons for this region-specific effect estimates remain to be clarified, but may suggest a differential effect for hardwood and softwood dusts”.

Hancock DG et al. “Wood dust exposure and lung cancer risk: a meta-analysis”. Occupational & Environmental Medicine, first published online 24 September 2015.

Musculoskeletal disorders and depression

Workers taking time off as a result of a musculoskeletal disorder (MSD) are at risk of developing symptoms of depression in the first year after the injury, according to a follow-up study. A poor depressive symptom history is also associated with a problematic return to work.

More than 300 workers with an MSD were interviewed at one, six and 12 months post injury and asked to self-report symptoms of depression. Among those with persistent high levels of symptoms at all points in the study, 18.8% reported that they had received a diagnosis of depression at the 12-month point and almost 30% were receiving treatment. The authors concluded: “While symptoms appear to improve over time, the first six months appear to be important in establishing future symptom levels and may represent a window of opportunity for early screening.”

Carnide N et al. “Course of depressive symptoms following a workplace injury: a 12-month follow-up update”. Journal of Occupational Rehabilitation, first published online 1 September 2015.

Line managers’ acceptance of job adaptations

OH doctors in France are able to mandate job restrictions requiring employers to adapt a worker’s role if the latter is diagnosed with certain MSDs. This hospital-based study seeks to explore line manager and supervisor views of such job restrictions, finding that many complain that restrictions are insufficiently precise, cannot be respected, and fail to mention what parts of a job an employee with an MSD can perform.

The need to accommodate job restrictions had negative consequences for the nurse managers in the study, including overwork, increased conflict and feelings of isolation and social injustice.

Grataloup M et al. “Job restrictions for healthcare workers with musculoskeletal disorders: consequences from the superior’s viewpoint”. Journal of Occupational Rehabilitation, first published online 25 September 2015.

Long hours and stroke risk

Working 55 hours or more each week is linked to a 33% greater risk of stroke and a 13% increased risk of developing heart disease, compared with working a standard 35-40 hour week, according to a systematic review and meta-analysis published recently. The association remained, even after taking account of health behaviours such as smoking and physical activity levels, and standard cardiovascular risk factors such as high blood pressure. The analysis included 25 studies involving over 600,000 people from Europe, the US and Australia, all of whom were followed for an average of 8.5 years.

Kivimaki M et al. Long working hours and risk of coronary heart disease and stroke: a systematic review and meta-analysis of published and unpublished data for 603,838 individuals, The Lancet, first published online 25 August 2015.

Wellbeing of women seafarers

Female seafarers commonly report a range of health and wellbeing problems, including back and joint pain and stress, and also find it difficult to access workplace healthcare, according to research by international trade union, Nautilus.

Women working at sea also raise concerns about the availability of feminine hygiene products (and their disposal). Researchers for Nautilus, which represents more than 22,000 maritime professionals in the UK, Netherlands and Switzerland, argue that the position of women seafarers could be improved if women were able to see a doctor while on duty, had easier access to a shoreside specialist if an on-board doctor could not help, and increased job security. Other simple and generally low-cost interventions include: gender-specific publications on back pain, mental health and nutrition; the introduction of sanitary waste disposal on all ships; and better availability of female-specific items in port shops and welfare centres.

Nautilus (2015). Women seafarers: health and wellbeing.

EU highlights workability in older age

A three-year, EU-funded research project, Workage, will explore the effectiveness of workplace interventions to engage and retain workers as they get older. The project began with a baseline analysis of the work-related factors associated with job satisfaction, workability and work engagement among older people. Not surprisingly, perhaps, this concludes that increased work autonomy, reduced mental job demands, supervisor support and a positive organisational climate are all associated with job satisfaction. The physical demands of the job were also identified as a major factor linked to work engagement and workability. The initial research involved around 1,000 employees of a Northern Irish healthcare trust and Stoke-on-Trent City Council.

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