Occupational health research round-up: July 2019

Rehabilitating workers undergoing cancer treatment

Designing return-to-work plans in parallel with a returning employee’s ongoing cancer treatment is challenging, according to this study based on semi-structured interviews. The issue of balancing the needs of cancer survivors and co-workers in terms of distributing work was also raised as a potential barrier to rehabilitation. The authors conclude that “mechanisms that support cancer survivors’ return-to-work without introducing strain on co-workers should be investigated in future research.”

K S Petersen et al. “Reintegrating employees undergoing cancer treatment into the workplace: a qualitative study of employer and co-worker perspectives”, Journal of Occupational Rehabilitation, published online 5 May 2019.

Training managers to be aware of mental ill health

Mental health awareness training for managers can have positive implications for the mental health of teams, according to a pilot evaluation of a UK employer’s training intervention. The 93 participants in the evaluation reported feeling more aware of mental ill health at work and more confident in their ability to address mental ill health amongst their employees after attending the training.

D Weston et al. “Evaluating a pilot mental health awareness for managers’ training course”, Occupational Medicine, published online 3 May 2019.

Time pressure and proactive work behaviour

Being pressured at work does not necessarily result in more proactive work behaviour (PWB) and, in turn, PWB itself may be a source of strain at work, according to this study. In particular, when high time-pressured work weeks are followed by ones with low time pressure, employees tend to use the latter to “recharge their batteries”, rather than to engage in more PWB. Over consecutive working weeks, time pressure seems to impede, rather than facilitate, employees’ PWBs. The authors conclude that employers “need to be aware that these behaviours can have costs for employees, for example, in increasing their experience of time pressure.”

T Urbach and O Weigelt. “Time pressure and proactive work behaviour: a week-level study on intra-individual fluctuations and reciprocal relationships”, Journal of Organizational Psychology, published online 16 April 2019.

Gender and exit from employment because of ill health

Depressive symptoms and arthritis explain a greater proportion of women’s exit from the workforce in later working life (aged 50 to 70) than they do men’s, even after allowing for differences in the prevalence of these two chronic health conditions. This is one of the findings of an analysis of the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing, which follows employees until they experience disability employment exit. Pain and various types of functional limitations were also important mediators of exit from the workforce after the age of 50, in addition to being determinants of that exit in their own right.

D Holman. “Chronic conditions as predictors of later life disability employment exit: a gendered analysis”, Occupational & Environmental Medicine, published online 15 April 2019.

Doctors’ decisions to disclose mental ill health

Understanding what prevents doctors from seeking support for mental ill health has improved but less is known about how doctors make decisions about their own mental ill health, and to disclose an issue. This study uses semi-structured interviews with 46 UK doctors and medical students, all of whom have personal experience of mental ill health. It finds that, although all had disclosed their mental ill health to someone, not all had chosen to tell their employer. Disclosures were made despite the many obstacles present and the complex nature of disclosure, including the fact that an obstacle to disclosure for one individual is an enabler for another. The authors conclude that “understanding this and the importance of the first disclosure has important implications for how best to support doctors and medical students in need.”

S Rees et al. “Doctors’ decisions when disclosing their mental ill health”, Occupational Medicine, published online 4 May 2019.

Trichloroethylene exposure and immune function

Occupational exposure to levels of trichloroethylene (TCE) below one of the most commonly-used regulatory standards still produces changes in levels of key markers for immune function and kidney toxicity, according to this Chinese-based study. It finds that six immunity biomarkers were significantly reduced amongst the workers exposed to TCE at levels below 10ppm as an eight-hour, time-weighted average level (the standard used in many countries for occupational exposure). It also finds that one marker for kidney toxicity was significantly increased amongst the workers exposed to this level of TCE. TCE is primarily used in industry to make refrigerants and other hydrofluorocarbons.

K-M Lee et al. “Alterations in immune and renal biomarkers among workers occupationally exposed to low levels of trichloroethylene below current regulatory standards”, Occupational & Environmental Medicine, published online 10 April 2019.

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