Occupational health research round-up: May 2018


Hand hygiene and asthma control

A study of US nurses has discovered a link between the frequency of hand and arm washing and the poor control of asthma, suggesting the products used for surgical hand/arm antisepsis have an adverse effect. Nurses with partly controlled asthma and poorly controlled asthma were compared with nurses with controlled asthma. The researchers observed a consistent dose-response relationship between the frequency of hygiene tasks and poor asthma control.

Dumas O et al. “Association of hand and arm disinfection with asthma control in US nurses”, Occupational & Environmental Medicine, published online 23 February 2018.

Small pay increase brings big health benefits for low paid

Low-paid workers in the US who received a $1 increase in hourly wage called in sick less and considered themselves healthier than those who did not get the increase, according to this study. A $1 an hour increase in the minimum wage resulted in a 19% fall in reported absences from work due to worker illness. A similar wage increase also resulted in a 2.1% increase in the probability that low paid workers considered themselves to be in “good” or “excellent” health. There were no significant associations, however, between minimum wage increases and absences due to the illnesses of others, including children. “It is uncommon to see minimum-wage-effects research that focuses on difficult-to-measure factors such as worker health, even though a less healthy workforce can be a significant drain on productivity and finances”, one of the authors of the study, Paul Leigh, commented.

Leigh, J Du and P. “Effects of Minimum Wages on Absence from Work Due to Illness”, The B E Journal of Economic Analysis & Policy, volume 18 issue 1, https://www.degruyter.com/view/j/bejeap.2018.18.issue-1/bejeap-2017-0097/bejeap-2017-0097.xml

Employees want rewards for leading healthy lifestyles

A third of UK workers believe their employer should pay them for keeping healthy, according to a study by consultant, Willis Towers Watson. A third (34%) said they would only participate in an employer-sponsored health initiative if there was a financial incentive to do so, up on the 26% who said this when the survey was last carried out in 2013. A total of 70% of employees in the research did not think their employer’s current wellbeing initiatives met their needs, prompting a third of employers to state that workplace health strategies over the next three years would focus primarily on developing direct financial incentives for participation. Mike Blake, wellbeing lead at Willis Towers Watson, said: “It is understandable that companies – particularly those who are frustrated at a lack of engagement – are tempted to offer financial incentives to their employees. But this can be a knee jerk response to problems that may require deeper answers. Often a more sustainable solution is to ask more searching questions about the programmes and initiatives that are already in place, for example: are they joined up; do they connect to employees’ wants and needs; is there a broad enough range; and are they well communicated?”

“A third of UK workers think they should be financially rewarded for living a healthy lifestyle”, 07 February 2018, Willis Towers Watson research, https://www.willistowerswatson.com/en-GB/press/2018/02/a-third-of-UK-workers-think-they-should-be-financially-rewarded-for-living-a-healthy-lifestyle

Respiratory risks of working with 3D printers

Almost 60% of a group of 46 workers using 3D printers reported respiratory symptoms at least once a week, according to a survey undertaken as part of a wider study of whether this type of printing is associated with occupational health effects. Working more than 40 hours a week with 3D printers was significantly associated with a respiratory-related health diagnosis of asthma or allergic rhinitis, the survey found.

“Health survey of employees regularly using 3D printers”, F L Chan et al, Occupational Medicine, published online 10 March 2018.

IT innovation in return-to-work communications

Employers and off-work employees have no principled objections to the greater use of digital technology as part of rehabilitation communications, but the technology is yet to demonstrate value. This was the finding of a qualitative study of Canadian healthcare providers, employers and workers with experience of return-to-work. A transition to digital and IT-mediated tools for return to work communication was supported, but major caveats existed in relation to its perceived value and fit with current rehabilitation practice. In particular, IT system support and stakeholder cooperation will be necessary to adopt the change, the authors suggest.

Singh R and O’Hagan F. “’Apping up’: prospects for information technology innovation in return to work communication”, Journal of Occupational Rehabilitation, published online 21 March 2018.

Mental health of child abuse investigators

Working with victims and offenders in child abuse cases can affect the health and wellbeing of police officers and civilian staff, including their ability to sustain work. This questionnaire-based survey of child protection staff in seven police forces found a statistically significant relationship between four clinical symptoms, including anxiety and depression, and workability. Women working in this area had higher levels of symptoms, but not to a statistically significant degree, with the exception of primary trauma. The authors concluded that psychological surveillance can provide an important source of evidence for occupational practitioners working with child abuse investigators, informing them of the factors that might be considered when selecting, training, supporting and retaining officers and staff.

Tehrani N. “Psychological wellbeing and workability in child abuse investigators”, Occupational Medicine, published online 13 March 2018.

Work-focused CBT more effective than regular CBT

A type of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) that integrates work into treatment at an early stage is more effective in achieving return-to-work than regular CBT, according to this study of 168 employees. Work-focused CBT resulted in a faster partial return to work for employees absent because of common mental disorders, irrespective of their self-efficacy scores at baseline. The authors concluded that “considering the benefits of work-focused CBT for partial return to work we recommend this intervention as a preferred method for employees with common mental disorders, irrespective of baseline self-efficacy, depression and anxiety.” However, they added that, for those with low self-efficacy, extra exercises or components may be needed to promote full rehabilitation.

Brenninkmeijer V et al. “Predicting the effectiveness of work-focused CBT for common mental disorders: the influence of baseline self-efficacy, depression and anxiety”, Journal of Occupational Rehabilitation, published online 15 February 2018.

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