Occupational health research round-up: June 2019

Welding fumes increase lung cancer risk

Occupational exposure to welding fumes increases the risk of lung cancer, regardless of the type of steel welded, the welding method (arc versus gas welding) and independent of exposure to asbestos or tobacco smoke. This is the main finding of a meta-analysis of 37 previously published studies. The increased risk persisted regardless of the time period studied, geographic location, study design, occupational setting, assessment method and histological subtype.

M K Honaryar et al. “Welding fumes and lung cancer: a meta-analysis of case-control and cohort studies”, Occupational & Environmental Medicine, published online 4 April 2019.

Psychosocial work factors in healthcare

Working in healthcare often brings with it intense emotional demands, increasing individuals’ susceptibility to poor mental health. This study uses two surveys to assess the psychosocial work factors and wellbeing of 339 psychologists, concluding that work organisation, work relationships and emotional demands all influence this group of medical professionals’ mental health. In particular, it finds that strong social support at work, together with a challenging and autonomous role, can all promote mental health.

C Barros et al. “Can psychosocial work factors influence psychologists’ positive mental health?” Occupational Medicine, published online 2 April 2019.

Towards a national health and work strategy

The Health and Safety Executives’ new Health and Work Strategy is based on an up-to-date assessment of workplace health priorities and this evidence search seeks to identify research priorities to support the new strategy. Four exercises were carried out, including two web-based questionnaires of younger workers and occupational health professionals, focus groups and tele-depth interviews with health and safety professionals. The highest rated internal priorities for future research and intervention activities identified were: mesothelioma, lung cancer, COPD, musculoskeletal disorder, hearing loss, stress, asthma and hand-arm vibration. Generic issues identified by the research into priorities included ageing and work, obesity, new technologies and ethnicity and workforce culture and ethnicity.

D Fishwick et al. “A national Health and Work Strategy: a search for evidence”, Occupational Medicine, published online 5 April 2019.

Burnout increases stress risk for prison officers

Just over half of the 320 prison officers in this US-based study screened positively for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), with burnout a significant predictor of symptoms. Other significant predictors of PTSD-related symptoms included levels of self-efficacy, emotional labour and a diagnosis of anxiety or depression.

L Jaegers et al. “Posttraumatic stress disorder and job burnout among jail officers”, Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, published online 3 April 2019.

Social support is buffer against psychological distress

The support of a line manager or supervisor is associated with lower psychological distress at work according to this study of emergency workers responding to the Fukushima nuclear power plant accident. This was particularly the case for workers required to be at the site for more than 31 days (co-worker support was marginally significant in the case of those at the site for 10 days or less). The authors conclude that “social support is an important resource for reducing the risk of subsequent serious psychological distress among emergency workers. The associations of social support with psychological distress can differ depending on work duration and providers of the support.”

K Mafune et al. “Social support during emergency work and subsequent serious psychological distress: a cross-sectional study among emergency workers who responded to the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant accident”, Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, published online 2 April 2019.

Shift work and heart disease

Ischaemic heart disease (IHD) is the leading cause of death in many parts of the world and this meta-analysis supports previous evidence demonstrating a positive dose-response relationship between shift work duration and IHD risk. For example, the analysis of 21 articles (covering 19,782 IHD cases) shows that each year’s increase in shift work is associated with a 0.9% increase in the risk of IHD.

M Cheng et al. “Shift work and ischaemic heart disease: meta-analysis and dose-response relationship”, Occupational Medicine, published online 29 March 2019.

Health risks of working with mix of chemicals underestimated

The current approach to the management of man-made chemicals “systematically underestimates” the health risks associated with combined exposures to endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDC). This is the overarching conclusion of the EU Horizon 2020 EDC-MixRisk project, which published its conclusions in a policy brief recently. The project team concludes that, whilst the population (including workers) is exposed to a combination of chemical mixtures, current risk assessment and management practices focus mainly on exposure to single substances. For example, researchers in Milan used human brain organoids to show that EDCs interfere with the same regulatory networks that are already involved in the genetic forms of autism spectrum disorder and “intellectual disability”. Other parts of the project explored the role of chemical mixtures in modulating thyroid hormone signaling.

EDC-MixRisk https://edcmixrisk.ki.se/ “Health risks associated with mixtures of man-made chemicals are underestimated“, available online at https://edcmixrisk.ki.se/2019/03/26/press-release-health-risks-associated-with-mixtures-of-man-made-chemicals-are-underestimated/

Night work and miscarriage

This study of 22,744 Danish women provides further evidence that night work during pregnancy may increase the risk of miscarriage, and suggests a threshold level of two night-shifts a week. For example, women who had two or more night shifts had an increased risk of miscarriage after week eight of their pregnancy compared with women not working nights. The cumulative number of night shifts worked between weeks three and 21 of the pregnancy increased the risk in a dose-dependent pattern.

L Moelenberg Begtrup et al. “Night work and miscarriage: a Danish nationwide register-based cohort study”, Occupational & Environmental Medicine, published online 25 March 2019.

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