Occupational health research round-up: September 2017

occupational health research: noise

This month’s look at occupational health research includes studies on noise at work and how outdoor breaks can relieve stress at work. 

Stricter legislation needed to reduce noise at work

Stricter legislation might help reduce noise levels at work, according to this Cochrane Review covering 29 studies of interventions to prevent occupational hearing loss. For example, one study reviewed shows that noise levels decreased by about 5 decibels after the implementation of stricter legislation in the mining industry. Personal protective equipment, such as earmuffs and earplugs, can reduce noise exposure to safe levels but instructions on how to insert plugs are needed as earplugs “probably” do not offer sufficient protection without advice, the review finds.

Two studies examined in the review found there was no difference in the long-term effect of earmuffs versus earplugs on hearing loss. The jury is still out on the value of hearing loss prevention programmes at work, according to the Cochrane Review, with a number of studies showing that the risk of hearing loss is still substantial despite the workers concerned being covered by a hearing lost prevention programme.

Interventions to prevent occupational noise-induced hearing loss (review)”, C Tikka et al, Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/14651858.CD006396.pub4/full

Outdoor breaks help relieve stress

Taking any kind of break from work helps reduce stress, but a break outdoors is significantly more effective, according to this small study of university staff. A four-week trial of indoor and outdoor breaks, including an “outdoor booster break”, showed that the outdoor break was both feasible and effective.

“Effectiveness and feasibility of a 10-minute employee stress intervention: outdoor booster break”, E Largo-Wright et al, Journal of Workplace Behavioral Health, published online 11 July 2017.

Multiple sclerosis mortality in the British military

The mortality rate from multiple sclerosis (MS) among armed forces personnel is higher than in selected other occupations, according to this longitudinal study of men aged 20-74 during the period 1979-2010. The authors conclude that this finding is unlikely to have occurred by chance and that analysis of military cohorts from other countries is needed to explore the evidence further.
“Mortality from multiple sclerosis in British military personnel”, E C Harris et al, Occupational Medicine, published online 20 June 2017.

Work-related physical activity and ill health retirement

Physically demanding work is associated with a higher risk of early exit from the workforce due to physical ill health, and musculoskeletal disorders in particular, according to this Norwegian study. However, no such association was discovered between occupational physical activity and early retirement due to mental ill health. Those with physically demanding jobs but who were not physically active in their leisure time were more likely to exit work early on an ill health pension than those with less physically demanding jobs but who were physically active outside work.
“Occupational and leisure-time physical activity and risk of disability pension: prospective data from the HUNT study, Norway”, M S Fimland et al, Occupational & Environmental Medicine, published online 11 July 2017.

Burnout and suicide ideation

Stressful work conditions are important in developing an understanding of suicidal tendencies in particular occupations, according to this study of veterinarians. In particular, work conditions that are emotionally exhausting may foster suicidal thoughts, with burnout as a mediating factor. Avoidance strategies and self-medication with alcohol not only exacerbate burnout and suicidal thoughts but amplify the harmful impact of high job demands, the article suggests.

A supportive working environment is a valuable coping mechanism, more so than active problem solving, which the authors find is not as beneficial as they expected.
“Burnout, coping and suicidal ideation: an application and extension of the job-demand-control-support model”, J E Wallace, Journal of Workplace Behavioral Health, published online 11 July 2017.

Taylor review calls for statutory sick pay revamp

The Government-commissioned Taylor review of modern working practices calls for the current system of statutory sick pay (SSP) to be reformed, arguing that it is inflexible, a barrier to rehabilitation and excludes groups of workers who do not meet the income threshold for national insurance contributions.

The review recommends that SSP should be a basic employment right, comparable to the National Minimum Wage, to which all workers are entitled regardless of income from day 1. It should be payable by the employer and accrue on a length-of-service basis in a similar way to paid holiday entitlement.

Employers must not use flexible working arrangements to reduce costs and must consider the impact of different working patterns, including so-called gig working, on the workforce, particularly in terms of increased sickness rates and reduced productivity.

The report recognises that the shape and content of work is strongly related to workers’ health and wellbeing, concluding that: “For the benefit for firms, workers and the public interest we need to develop a more proactive approach to workplace health.” The review also recommends that relevant government departments explore ways of incentivising local government to develop integrated approaches to improving health at work.

All employers should support people back to work above and beyond any legal requirement to make reasonable adjustments. “What is more, those who are sick should not see their job lost or long-term career damaged”, the report concludes.
Good work: the Taylor review of modern working practices”, https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/627671/good-work-taylor-review-modern-working-practices-rg.pdf

Trainee doctors risk lives in post-shift car accidents

More than half of NHS junior doctors have experienced an accident or near miss due to fatigue when driving home after a night shift, according to a survey of trainees in anaesthesia. Nearly three quarters of the 2,231 respondents reported fatigue has an effect on their physical health or psychological wellbeing and more than two-thirds that it affects personal relationships. More than 80% said that they have been too tired to drive home after a night shift on occasions and less than two in 10 have ever used rest facilities at the hospital where they work.
“A national survey of the effects of fatigue on trainees in anaesthesia in the UK”, L McClelland et al, Anaesthesia, published online 5 July 2017, http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/anae.13965/full

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