Occupational Health research round-up: November 2017

occupational health research nutrition

This month’s overview of occupational health research looks at confidentiality issues with employee assistance programmes and correlations between the work environment and healthy eating. 

Work environment and healthy eating

Autonomy at work, particularly around decision-making, is positively associated with healthy eating behaviours, according to this US study. Conversely, having a physically demanding job and being exposed to smoking are both negatively related to healthy eating and leisure-time physical activity.

Williams JAR et al. “Healthy eating and leisure-time activity: cross-sectional analysis of the role of work environments in the US”. Journal of Occupational & Environmental Medicine, published online 24 August 2017.

Economic burden of asbestos-related lung cancer “substantial”

The economic burden of work-related exposure to asbestos is “substantial”, according to this Canadian study. It calculates that, for a total of 2,331 newly diagnosed cases in 2011, the economic burden was $831 million (£497.8 million) in direct and indirect costs plus $1.5 billion (£8.9 billion) in quality of life costs (based on a cost of $100,000 (£59,866) per quality-adjusted life year). According to the study, this amounts to $356,429 (£213,364) in direct/indirect costs and $652,369 (£390,459) in compromised quality of life per case.

Tompa E et al. “The economic burden of lung cancer and mesothelioma due to occupational and para-occupational asbestos exposure”. Occupational & Environmental Medicine, published online 29 July 2017.

EAPs and confidentiality

Staff worry that HR and line managers can see who is using the counselling services of an employee assistance programme (EAP), according to a survey of employee benefits by consultant, MetLife.

The survey also suggests that an organisational focus on just the counselling aspects of an EAP creates a perception among employees that counselling is the only feature of a programme, preventing their engagement with other aspects. MetLife suggests that simple initiatives, such as identifying “wellness champions” in the business and involving line managers in broader workplace health activities, helps boost the take up of EAPs.

Jo Elphick, head of marketing at MetLife, said: “EAPs are becoming a standard offering in UK companies, but more can be done to maximise their value. We’ve seen that employees are really starting to value their benefits so we should seize the opportunity to review and enhance communications around this important benefit.”

MetLife (2017). “MetLife employee benefit trends survey, 2017”.

Health literacy of line managers

Line managers are aware of health topics and problems but have difficulty deciding which sources of health information to use due to work and information overload, according to this study based on semi-structured interviews with 23 managers.

Even those managers who devise strategies for health often fail to implement health-literate behaviour. Most managers agreed that mental health was neglected at their workplace, and that company conditions were important in influencing their ability to act in a way that promoted health literacy.

Fiedler S et al. “Health literacy of commercial industry managers: an exploratory qualitative study in Germany”. Health Promotion International, published online 5 September 2017.

Standing at work and cardiovascular risks

Occupations involving standing up for the majority of the time are associated with a two-fold increase in the risk of heart disease compared with occupations where the worker sits down, according to this study. This association persists after controlling for other health, socio-demographic and work variables.

Cardiovascular risks associated with occupations involving a combination of sitting, standing and walking differ for men and women, with lower risks generally for men and higher for women.

Smith P et al. “The relationship between occupational standing and sitting and incident heart disease over a 12-month period in Ontario, Canada”. American Journal of Epidemiology, published online 11 August 2017.

Work-related factors “critical” in doctor burn-out

Work-related factors, such as workload and role conflict, are “critical” correlates of emotional exhaustion, which in turn is strongly related to poor health and turnover, according to this study of more than 5,000 Belgian doctors and nurses.

Six per cent of the sample reported three measures of burnout – emotional exhaustion, depersonalisation and personal competence – and 13% at least two measures.

Vandenbroeck S et al. “Burnout in Belgian physicians and nurses”. Occupational Medicine, published online 5 September 2017.

Outdoor light and breast cancer link

Women who live in highly-lit areas and who work night shifts may be at higher risk of contracting breast cancer than those living in lower-lit areas, according to a study of nurses. The researchers linked data from satellite images of Earth taken at night to residential addresses and also considered the influence of night shift work.

Women exposed to the highest levels of outdoor light at night had an estimated 14% increased risk of breast cancer, the study finds. The association between outdoor light at night and breast cancer was found only among premenopausal women and those who were current or past smokers. It was stronger among night shift workers, suggesting that exposure to light at night and night work contribute jointly to the risk, “possibly through mechanisms involving circadian disruption.”

James P et al. “Outdoor light at night and breast cancer incidence in the Nurses’ Health Study II”. Environmental Health Perspectives, published online 17 August 2017.

Sensitisation to cow’s milk in dairy workers

Continued exposure to milk proteins, either by skin contact or inhalation, may lead to sensitisation and severe anaphylaxis manifestations in dairy workers. Although sensitisation to milk proteins is a phenomenon normally found in children, this case report shows that work-related sensitisation is also possible.

The 62-year-old worker whose case is covered in the report experienced severe episodes of anaphylaxis following his intake of dairy products as a result of 17 years’ workplace exposure to dried milk.

Quirantes Sierra B et al. “Sensitization to cow’s milk protein in a dairy worker”. Occupational Medicine, published online 2 September 2017.

Job insecurity and metabolic health

Economic insecurity is associated with poor metabolic health and a number of inflammatory biomarkers, according to this study of more than 6,000 people of working age. Those who experienced consistent economic insecurity had poorer levels of nine biomarkers of metabolic health, including kidney and liver function and various types of cholesterol, than those who remained consistently economically stable.

“Economic insecurity during the Great Recession and metabolic, inflammatory and liver function biomarkers: analysis of the UK Household Longitudinal Study”. Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, published online 28 August 2017.

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