Occupational health research round-up – June 2012

Olympic park OH legacy

Working on the construction of the Olympic Park and Athletes’ Village in London has affected the way workers and managers view occupational health issues, and, crucially, their health behaviour, according to this evaluation of the park’s OH service. Almost 90% of employees believe that their awareness of OH risks has improved as a result of working on the project, and less experienced workers are most likely to have made improvements. Managers report that they are more familiar with OH issues and have improved their general ability to manage OH risks. Three-quarters of managers used the OH service. The support of occupational hygienists, who assisted contractors to take a more preventative approach to OH, was seen as a particularly innovative and useful addition to more traditional OH services. The report concludes: “There is agreement that the OH service on the park and village was one of the best that has been implemented on any major construction project in the UK to date.”

Occupational health provision on the Olympic Park and Athletes’ Village, Health and Safety Executive research report 921.

ROI on wellbeing

Although more than 80% of US companies have a wellbeing programme in place, most fail to measure the return on investment (ROI) from such schemes, for example, whether or not they help cut healthcare costs or sickness absence, according to a consultant survey. For those that do measure ROI, 14% indicate a small positive return and 15% a modest return, according to the latest Towers Watson wellbeing survey. Financial incentives are widely offered by US employers to encourage employees to take part in wellbeing programmes, and, in some cases, organisations make participation a condition for receiving some healthcare benefits. The survey finds that one-fifth of US organisations reward or penalise employees based on whether or not they are smokers, and 35% reward or penalise employees based on weight control and cholesterol targets set by wellness programmes.

Towers Watson wellbeing survey, April 2012.

Gender differences in rehabilitation

Different personal and occupational factors affect the time it takes for men and women to return to work following long-term absence, according to this Canadian study. Factors lengthening sickness absence for women include age (older women took longer to return), poor perceived economic status, working more than 40 hours a week, and having dependants. High gross annual income helped women’s rehabilitation, the study finds. Older men, those with poor perceived economic status, or those with high perceived physical workloads and job insecurity took longer to return to work.

In practice: The authors argue that the results of their research confirm the importance of gender-sensitive strategies when investigating return-to-work determinants and developing action plans.

“Gender differences in personal and work-related determinants of return to work following long-term disability: a 5-year cohort study”, Lederer V et al, Journal of Occupational Rehabilitation, first published online 31 March 2012.

Bigger organisations are better at rehabilitation

The likelihood of an employee returning to work after a stroke increases with organisation size, according to this Danish study. Each increase in enterprise size category is associated with an increased chance of returning to work, prompting the authors to conclude that “preventive efforts and research aimed at finding ways of mitigating the effect are warranted”.

“Enterprise size and return to work after stroke”, Hannerz H et al, Journal of Occupational Rehabilitation, first published online 17 April 2012.

Coaching boosts benefit of wellbeing programmes

Using coaching techniques to help employees get the most out of well-being programmes increases their satisfaction with such initiatives, according to this US study. Positive associations were discovered between employee satisfaction and sustained coaching, particularly if it is delivered by telephone. Other factors associated with high levels of employee satisfaction include being older, being female, the payment of incentives for participation and the maturity of the wellbeing programme.

“Wellness program satisfaction, sustained coaching participation, and achievement of health goals”, Ovbiosa-Akinbosoye et al, Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, published ahead of print 12 April 2012.

Exercise and the risk of osteoarthritis

High body mass raises the risk of knee osteoarthritis, and obesity increases the risk of severe activity-limiting osteoarthritis. However, physical exercise does not increase these risks further, suggesting that those with excessive body mass should be encouraged to exercise without concern for an increased risk of osteoarthritis, according to this Norwegian research.

“Effect of body mass index and physical exercise on risk of knee and hip osteoarthritis: longitudinal data from the Norwegian HUNT study”, Mork PJ et al, Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health, first published online 17 April 2012.

Recycling firm fined for lead exposure

A recycling company has been fined £49,500 and £25,483 in costs for failing to protect employees working with lead. More than 90 workers, most of whom were ­Romanian, were significantly exposed while stripping lead-sheathed copper cabling. During an inspection, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that nothing had been done to reduce lead exposure, ventilation was inadequate and no face masks or respiratory equipment were available. Although gloves were provided, workers wore their own clothes, potentially spreading the risk to others when they left work. The company, Metal and Waste Recycling Ltd, had not carried out blood or other health surveillance tests required when working with lead.

In practice: Chris Tilley, HSE inspector, said: “The company fell far short of its legal duties and exposed its employees to an unacceptable level of risk, which resulted in six people suffering lead poisoning and a further two workers needing hospital treatment.”

Chemical-induced CFS

A railway worker exposed to chemical fumes at work and who developed chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) as a result has received £37,000 in compensation. The signalman was exposed to unknown fumes that escaped from a faulty electrical box, which made him unwell immediately. His symptoms worsened over the following weeks and he was diagnosed with chemical-induced CFS.

Train door triggers tinnitus

A train driver has received substantial compensation in an out-of-court settlement from Northern Rail Ltd after developing tinnitus following an explosion-like bang from a faulty train door. The tinnitus started when a gangway door leading from the driver’s cab to the main train burst open as he approached a station. The driver sought to secure and lock the door open, but the lock was faulty and the door slammed again at a subsequent station, exposing him to another loud bang.

Comments are closed.