Occupational Health research round-up – February 2013

Age, autonomy and coronary heart disease

Older workers with more autonomy and control at work are less likely to experience a first-time coronary event than those with high job strain and low task control, according to a study of 227 coronary patients and 277 matched controls. Older workers who had a coronary event were four times as likely to experience high job strain and more likely to report low job control.

McCarthy VJC et al (2012). “Age, job characteristics and coronary health”. Occupational Medicine; vol.62, issue 8, pp.612-619.

Better marketing efforts needed from OH providers

OH providers need to improve their communications and marketing with existing and potential employer clients, according to the latest survey of the OH purchasers’ perspective. Most respondents agreed that the provision of expert advice on a workplace health matter, including absence management, is a central feature of OH services. However, other purchasers of OH services spoke of being given in-sufficient, inappropriate or partisan recommendations, and some mentioned problems with turnaround times for medical reports.

Keyes-Evans O, Woods A (2012). “Marketing occupational health: exploring the purchaser perspective”. Occupational Medicine, published online 13 December.

Workability and stress levels of older employees

Targeting health interventions at work-related stress can help maintain the ability to stay in work in early old age, according to a review of longitudinal data across 11 European countries. The prevention of disability in the ageing workforce is essential for sustaining organisational performance. The study aimed to test the hypothesis that a low socioeconomic position and exposure to stressful psycho-social work conditions contribute to disability in early old age. It found that after adjusting for disability at the baseline point, chronic stress at work exerted effects on disability two years later, which prompted the authors to conclude that “investing in the reduction of work stress and social inequalities in health functioning are relevant entry points of policies that aim at maintaining workability in early old age”.

Reinhardt J et al (2012).”Socioeconomic position, psychosocial work environment and disability in an ageing workforce: a longitudinal analysis of SHARE data from 11 European countries”. Occupational and Environmental Medicine, published online 13 December.

Stroke rehabilitation too complex for employers

Employers face complex emotional and practical issues when helping an employee return to work after a stroke, and many lack the knowledge or experience to deal with these effectively, a study based on interviews with 18 small business owners, line managers, HR and OH professionals has concluded. The range and quality of support networks that employers access for help and advice on stroke rehabilitation is variable, the study found.

Coole C et al (2012).”Returning to work after stroke: perspectives of employer stakeholders, a qualitative study”. Journal of Occupational Rehabilitation, published online 5 December.

Effective sickness absence

The most effective tools for preventing and cutting sickness absence are a graded return to normal job activity and cognitive behavioural therapy, according to a systematic review of the evidence. There are also limited findings to support the Sheerbrooke model of comprehensive, multidisciplinary intervention, the study suggests. Workplace education and programmes designed to increase employees’ physical activity levels do not appear to cut absence, the authors concluded.

Odeen M et al (2012). “Systematic review of active workplace interventions to reduce sickness absence”. Occupational Medicine, published online 5 December.

IBD and staff absence

Employees with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) are, on average, more likely to take time off sick than those without the condition, according to a US study. Just over 70% of workers with IBD had time off sick in the period studied, compared with 58.2% of employees without it. Among those who missed work, those with IBD took an average 13.38 days off per year compared with 9.89 days for employees without IBD. IBD costs US employers an additional $783 in absence per employee with the condition per year, the study calculated.

Gunnarsson C et al (2012). “The employee absenteeism costs of IBD: evidence from US National Survey Data”. Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, published online 10 December.

Past absence predicts future time off sick

Staff who take more than two weeks off in absence in a single spell are more likely to take further time off sick, according to this analysis of data on the absence of 6,934 local government workers in Helsinki, Finland. Absences of between one and three days also predicted longer spells of sick leave in the future, suggesting to the authors that short absences “are not trivial for health”.

Laaksonen M et al (2012). “The durations of past sickness absences predict future absence episodes”. Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, published online 11 December.

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