Occupational health research round-up – March 2012

Yoga and workouts foster healthier lifestyle for older workforce

Worksite yoga and gym facilities, and, to a lesser degree, fruit provision, help older workers to adopt healthier lifestyles, according to this Dutch study of more than 600 workers. Half the group received a behaviour change intervention (Vital@Work), including yoga, a weekly workout session and free fruit for six months. Outcome measures were taken once the programme had finished, including a 2km walking test. The intervention group lowered their need for recovery, compared with the control (no intervention) group, with stronger effects for those complying with the workout part of the programme.

“A worksite vitality intervention to improve older workers’ lifestyle and vitality-related outcomes: results of a randomised controlled trial”, Strijk JE et al, Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, first published online 20 January 2012.

GPs reporting work-related sickness absence

GPs report cases of work-related sickness absence using an online web form known as THOR-GP and a recent study sought to examine the information that they report on each case. The research examined more than 5,000 reports of work-related ill health made between 2006 and 2009, finding that more than half (56%) had an associated absence from work. There was a strong association between the diagnosis provided by GPs and the occurrence of absence for some conditions. For example, 81% of mental ill health cases resulted in an absence, compared with 50% of musculoskeletal cases. Public sector employees took absence more frequently, especially compared with self-employed people. The study concludes that the data reported by GPs with vocational training in occupational medicine may help inform policy decisions on the management of sickness absence at work.

“Work-related sickness absence as reported by UK general practitioners”, Hussey L et al, Occupational Medicine, first published online 10 January 2012.

Mergers, acquisitions and mental ill health

Company mergers and acquisitions may lead to an increased risk of generalised anxiety disorder in employees, according to this Canadian study. Those exposed to merger activity in the previous 12 months had a significantly higher one-year incidence of anxiety disorder compared with those not exposed to mergers. The exposed group was 2.8 times more likely to have had an incidence of anxiety disorder than the others, and about 2.4 times more likely to have developed any anxiety disorders over one year.

“Business mergers and acquisitions and the risk of mental disorders: a population-based study”, Wang JL et al, Occupational and Environmental Medicine, first published online 6 January 2012.

Occupational workload and osteoarthritis risk

Occupations with heavy physical workloads, such as farming, construction and healthcare, present a strong risk for hip and knee osteoarthritis in both men and women, and these risks increase the longer a person works in the industry, this study suggests. Male floor-layers and bricklayers and healthcare assistants of both sexes had the highest risks of knee osteoarthritis. Male farm workers had an increased risk of hip osteoarthritis after only between one and five years in the job.

“Cumulative years in occupation and the risk of hip or knee osteoarthritis in men and women: a register-based follow-up study”, Andersen S et al, Occupational and Environmental Medicine, first published online 11 January 2012.

Barriers to mental health rehabilitation

Return-to-work interventions following a mental-health-related absence are often complex, involving many stakeholders, making them prone to implementation problems. This study identifies several barriers to the effectiveness of such interventions, using systematic process evaluations, including: waiting lists; the fact that mental health problems can be more severe than expected; key stakeholders’ different expectations for how long the return to work should take; and the fact that the global financial downturn has resulted in participants losing jobs.

In practice: The authors concluded that a thorough assessment of the local context to rehabilitation, including stakeholder needs and concerns, is likely to improve the sustainability of return-to-work interventions.

“Implementation of a coordinated and tailored return-to-work intervention for employees with mental health problems”, Martin MH et al, Journal of Occupational Rehabilitation, first published online 13 January 2012.

Psychosocial exposure at work and mental health

A robust association exists between job strain and depressive symptoms among men, according to this study drawing on two independent French national databases, which were used to construct a job-exposure matrix. The associations were much weaker between depression and other work exposures, for example, psychological demands and decision latitude.

“Psychosocial exposures at work and mental health: potential utility of a job-exposure matrix”, Cohidon C et al, Journal of Occupational & Environmental Medicine, published ahead of print 13 January 2012.

Low workload triggers sick leave spells

Staff becoming ill on a day when they have a relatively lower workload than normal are more likely to decide to take sick leave, this study of Swedish workplaces finds. Analysing 546 sick leave spells from a group of 1,430 employees, the research discovers that the odds ratio of sick leave occurring on a day with an unusually low workload was 2.57.

“Low workload as a trigger of sick leave: results from a Swedish case-crossover study”, Hultin H et al, Journal of Occupational & Environmental Medicine, published ahead of print 16 January 2012.

Legal news round-up

82-year-old compensated for asbestos exposure

A joiner exposed to asbestos while working for ICI Northwich and Harland and Wolff shipbuilders in the 1950s has been compensated to the tune of £23,650 in an out-of-court settlement. The 82-year-old was diagnosed with asbestosis in 2008, and his solicitor proved that neither of the employers concerned had provided appropriate protection against asbestos, or warned the claimant about the dangers to his health.

Social care workers were exposed to violence

Dimensions (UK) Ltd, a social care organisation, has been fined £14,000 and was ordered to pay £30,000 in costs after pleading guilty to exposing workers to the risk of violence and aggression. A Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation in 2009/10 found that the company did not have adequate procedures in place to control the risk of violence and aggression from a particular client, who posed an ongoing risk to employees, and who kicked a support worker in the eye.

In practice: Carol Forster, HSE inspector, said: “Dimensions should have identified the triggers that would lead to this client displaying aggressive behaviour and measures should have been put in place to avoid them. [The company] should also have ensured that staff understood the activities and environments appropriate for this client to reduce the risk of violent behaviour being triggered. Finally, [the company] should have acted on incidents and near misses which indicated an escalating risk.”

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