Occupational health research round-up: October 2015

An study on workplace mental health in Europe suggests including references to psychological health in existing EU directives.

European countries need to do more to address workplace mental health, a study finds in this month’s round-up of recent occupational health research. Other studies look at cognitive behavioural therapy and work participation and chronic disease among older workers.

EU needs to do more on workplace mental health

A European Commission evaluation of how governments and agencies in member states support workplace mental health has uncovered a “mixed picture”, “but with several good practice examples”. The report cites the example of the UK management standards on stress, and how these have been adapted for use in Italy. However, it questions whether or not these initiatives will achieve the desired outcomes, “especially since preventive actions still seem to be lacking across countries”.

A continuation of the current pace of activities “would not necessarily lead to an improvement of the situation, given the progress achieved so far, nor would it necessarily lead to greater awareness in relation to the vital importance of mental health in the workplace”, the report continues.

Key recommendations include: considering whether mental health disorders should be included in the list of occupational diseases at EU level; and to include a clear reference to psychosocial risks and workplace mental health in existing Council directives on health and safety.

Leka S et al, European Commission. Evaluation of policy and practice to promote mental health in the workplace in Europe. Final Report.

Cognitive behavioural therapy and work participation

Work-focused cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) combined with individual job support, is more effective than “usual care” at keeping people with common mental disorders (CMDs) in work, according to a large-scale randomised control trial of 1,193 workers.

Just under 45% of those in the intervention group increased or maintained their work participation at the follow-up point, compared with 37.2% of the control group and the difference in work participation remained significant after 18 months. The effect was even stronger for those in the intervention group on long-term benefits. The CBT programme also reduced depression and anxiety symptoms, and increased health-related quality of life more than the usual care package.

Reme SE et al. “Work-focused cognitive behavioural therapy and individual job support to increase work participation in common mental disorders: a randomised controlled multi-centre trial”. Occupational & Environmental Medicine, first published online 6 August 2015.

Older workers and chronic disease

Growing numbers of people will be working into older age and some will be doing so while suffering from chronic diseases, such as depression, cardiovascular disease and osteoarthritis. A study seeks to identify the factors associated with greater work participation among this emerging workplace group, finding that men whose partners had paid work, and who were in better physical and mental health, were more likely to continue in paid work.

For those with depression or heart disease, work gave purpose to their life and enhanced social contacts; however, work was perceived as necessary to structure life only among those suffering from depression.

Cecile R et al. “Factors important for work participation among older workers with depression, cardiovascular disease, and osteoarthritis: a mixed method study”. Journal of Occupational Rehabilitation, first published online 26 July 2015.

Alcohol use in the navy

Potentially harmful rates of alcohol use have fallen in the Royal Navy but remain higher than the wider military, particularly on ships with a smaller crew size, according to this survey of deployed maritime forces. Common mental disorders and post-traumatic stress disorder are more frequently reported in the maritime environment than during land-based deployments, and CMDs are associated with lower morale, cohesion, poor leadership and problems at home.

Whybrow D et al. “The mental health of deployed UK maritime forces”. Occupational & Environmental Medicine, first published online 11 August 2015.

Disaster recovery

A total of 100 post-disaster OH needs have been identified in a joint analysis of eight Japanese disasters. The proportion of these 100 health needs that applied in each of the disasters varied from 13% to 49%. A greater number of needs arose when a company was responsible for the disaster and when employees’ lives were lost.

Tateishi S et al. “What occupational health needs arise in workplaces following disasters? A joint analysis of eight cases of disaster in Japan”. Journal of Occupational & Environmental Medicine, August 2015, vol. 57, issue 8.

Worksite wellness pays

A wellbeing programme at US retailer, Price Chopper Golub Corporation, has returned $4.33 for every dollar invested, according to an analysis of medical claims data over a three-year period from 2008 to 2010. Reductions in medical costs were identified for several risks and groups of workers, with an average saving of $133 per participant in the wellness plan, totalling $285,706 over the three years analysed.

Light EM et al. “Economic analysis of the return-on-investment of a worksite wellness program for a large multi-state retail grocery organization”. Journal of Occupational & Environmental Medicine, August 2015, vol. 57, issue 8.

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