Occupational health research round-up: April 2019

Poor sleep and job stressors

Employees reporting high numbers of job stressors, and who say they need longer to unwind and relax after work, are significantly more likely to experience insomnia symptoms, according to this study of public transport workers in Californian. Around 27% of the 676 workers in the study said they often had trouble going to sleep, or staying asleep, over the past 12 months. Those reporting that they had to deal with equipment problems, road or traffic issues and poor access to bathrooms at work were more likely to experience sleep problems. Younger workers, women and smokers were also more likely to report insomnia than older workers, men and non-smokers. The authors conclude that, as occupational factors play a role in sleep problems, research is needed into how stress management interventions can help mitigate poor sleep quality.

Cunradi C B et al. “Frequency of job stressors, difficulty unwinding after work, and sleep problems among urban transit operators”, Journal of Workplace Behavioural Health, published online 12 January 2019.

15% of oil workers report anxiety

Nearly 15% of offshore oil and gas industry workers report anxiety and depression symptoms, according to this study of 1,747 employees. Younger workers, those with longer rotations and those with fewer years’ service were more likely to report such symptoms. Further, older locally-based workers and expatriates had a lower prevalence of anxiety symptoms than younger local workers.

Zezelj S P et al, “Anxiety and depression symptoms among gas and oil industry workers”, Occupational Medicine, published online 18 January 2019.

Which type of active workstation is best?

Active workstations have been adopted by a number of organisations in an effort to reduce sedentary behaviour at work, but which type is associated with the best health outcomes? This systematic review considers three types of so-called active workstation: treadmill, cycling and standing workstations. It finds that treadmills induced greater movement and muscular activity in the upper limbs compared with standing stations, and that both treadmill and cycling types resulted in elevated heart rate, lower blood pressure and increased energy use during the workday compared with the standing desk. Overall, cycling and treadmill workstations provide greater short-term physiological changes “that could potentially lead to better health” compared with standing stations. In addition, all three types appear to show short-term productivity benefits, although treadmill workstations were found to reduce the performance of computer tasks.

Dupont F et al. “Health and productivity at work: which active workstation for which benefits: a systematic review”, Occupational & Environmental Medicine, published online 28 January 2019.

Chronic bronchitis associated with occupational metal exposure

People exposed to metals at work have a higher incidence of chronic bronchitis, according to this longitudinal analysis of the European Community Respiratory Health Survey. Mineral dust exposure increased the incidence of chronic phlegm, particularly amongst men exposed to gases and fumes at work and amongst women exposed to pesticides.

Lytras T et al. “Occupational exposures and incidence of chronic bronchitis and related symptoms over two decades: the European Community Respiratory Health Survey”, Occupational & Environmental Medicine, published online 28 January 2019.

Full-time paid work and stress markers

Biological markers for chronic stress are 40% higher in women raising two children whilst undertaking full-time paid work compared with childless women working full-time, according to research carried out by the universities of Manchester and Essex. Women doing paid full-time work whilst bringing up one child had 18% higher levels of stress markers, the researchers found. Women with two children under the age of 15, who reduced their working hours by working flexibly or part-time, had chronic stress levels 37% lower than those working full-time, even after adjusting for demographic factors such as education and age.

‘Chronic stress levels 40% higher in full-time working women with children, but flexible work reduces stress’, Institute for Social and Economic Research, University of Essex, January 2019, published online at https://www.iser.essex.ac.uk/2019/01/26/chronic-stress-levels-40-higher-in-full-time-working-women-with-children-but-flexible-work-reduces-stress

Social support has role in rehabilitation

Social support in and out of work may influence an individual’s likelihood of returning to work following a work-related injury, according to this systematic review. The review explores the social barriers and facilitators in rehabilitation and the role of social factors in effective rehabilitation. It identifies five social themes involved in predicting return-to-work as part of a biopsychosocial model: contact/communication with the absent worker, a person-centred approach to rehabilitation, mutual trust, an individual’s reaction to injury and social integration/functioning.

White C et al. “The influence of social support and social integration factors on return to work outcomes for individuals with work-related injuries: a systematic review”, Journal of Occupational Rehabilitation, published online 22 January 2019.

Workplace smoking cessation pays its way

Employers who operate smoking cessation programmes achieve positive returns on the investment, according to this study of a combined pharmaceutical/behavioral model. The model estimates that the cost of funding four cessation attempts for employees in a workplace population over a three-year period (394,468 euros) would generate productivity and absence savings of 1.64 euros return for each euro invested. The authors conclude that “considering the avoided costs of loss of productivity and absenteeism, funding a smoking cessation programme of phamaco+behavioural therapies would produce substantial savings for the employer.”

Gutierrez J R et al. “Economic evaluation of combining pharmaco- and behavioural therapies for smoking cessation in an occupational medicine setting”, Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, published online 17 January 2019.

Pesticide exposure increases suicide risk

People exposed to pesticides have a 1.88-fold increased risk of suicide compared with the non-exposed population, according to this Korean study. Those with greater pesticide use and pesticide addiction had the highest suicide rates (a 1.91 raised risk), the study finds.

Jung M et al. “Association between chronic exposure to pesticide and suicide”, Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, published online 28 January 2019.

Burden of chronic headaches is “substantial”

The burden of chronic headache in the general population is “substantial” with high rates of lost workdays and “disutility”, according to this Norwegian study of people between the ages of 30 and 44 reporting chronic headaches. The group reported a mean 9.7 work days lost over the previous 3 months due to headaches and 33% were on long-term sick leave (out of work due to ill health for more than a year).

Kristoffersen E S et al. “Impact of chronic headache on workdays, unemployment and disutility in the general population”, Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health, published online 25 January 2019.

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