Occupational health research round-up: November 2018

Older workers with chronic disease

More people will be working with a chronic disease and poorer self-perceived health as working lives lengthen. This study explores the extent to which working life expectancy (WLE) in good and poor self-perceived health altered between 1992 and 2016 in older workers with a chronic disease. Of the workers with a chronic disease, total WLEs at age 55 were 5.2, 5.7 and 6.8 years in cohorts 1992, 2002 and 2012 respectively, demonstrating that workers with chronic disease extended their working lives by around 18 months from 1992 to 2016. Unhealthy WLE increased in the first decade of the period reviewed, whereas in the second decade, healthy WLE increased – among both workers in general and those having poor self-perceived health initially.

De Wind A et al. “Working life expectancy in good and poor self-perceived health among Dutch workers aged 55-65 years with a chronic disease over the period 1992-2016”. Occupational & Environmental Medicine, published online 07 September 2018.

Job strain and cardiometabolic disease

Job strain is a significant risk factor for men with cardiometabolic disease, according to a four-country study. The raised risk is independent of conventional risk factors and their treatment, and measured lifestyle factors. The impact of job strain on mortality amongst this group was almost as great as that for “current smoker versus previous smoker” status and higher than other risk factors such as hypertension, high total cholesterol concentration and physical inactivity. Excess mortality was also found amongst those men with cardiometabolic disease who had achieved treatment targets, for example those who had achieved a healthy lifestyle and those with normal blood pressure. The authors conclude that “standard care targeting conventional risk factors is therefore unlikely to mitigate the mortality risk associated with job strain in this population.”

Kivimaki M et al. “Work stress and risk of death in men and women with and without cardiometabolic disease: a multicohort study”. Lancet Diabetes Endocrinol, 2018; 6: 705-13, https://www.thelancet.com/action/showPdf?pii=S2213-8587%2818%2930140-2

Multiple job holders and wellbeing

Older people performing more than one job, but who would prefer to have only one, experience lower physical and mental health than other multiple job holders, according to this Dutch study. This is particularly the case if the roles they perform have high job demands and low resources. The researchers identified four groups of older multiple job holders, including the “vulnerable” group identified above, but also groups who are either indifferent to their multiple job holding status or who are satisfied with combining different roles. They suggest that policies and interventions need to be developed to support more vulnerable multiple job holders.

Bouwhuis S et al. “Distinguishing groups and exploring health differences among multiple job holders aged 45 years and older”. International Archives of Occupational and Environmental Health, published online 08 September 2018.

Cleaning agents and occupational asthma

Some commonly used cleaning agents, such as chlorine-releasing products, quaternary ammonium compounds and aldehydes, are associated with sensitisation and occupational asthma (OA), according to this UK study. Analysis of the Birmingham NHS Occupational Lung Disease Service database identified 80 patients with cleaning agent OA, most frequently caused by the agents listed above. However, the authors conclude that the use of cleaning agents alters over time, citing the example of UK healthcare where cleaning and decontamination practices and policy have changed in the past two decades: “Vigilance for OA in workplaces such as hospitals, nursing homes, leisure centres and swimming pools, where these cleaning agents are regularly used, is therefore essential”, they conclude.

Walters, G I et al. “Cleaning agent occupational asthma in the West Midlands, UK: 2000-16”. Occupational Medicine, published online 04 September 2018.

Work ability meetings: the Finnish model

Work ability meetings (WAMs) are planned discussions between an employee, a manager and an occupational physician to support rehabilitation and work retention. This study looks at the practice of WAMs in Finland, concluding that the focus of most meetings is on workplace adjustments to support workers to stay in employment. Meetings dealt most frequently with early interventions designed to produce a return-to-work, work modifications and vocational rehabilitation.

Honkonen, N et al. “Work ability meetings – a survey of Finnish occupational physicians”. Occupational Medicine, published online 06 September 2018.

What is “techno-stress”?

Techno-stress (TS) is an emergent phenomenon related to the pervasive use of information and communication technologies in both work and non-work settings. This literature review of 105 studies seeks to develop an accepted definition of TS, its symptoms and risk factors, concluding that it can lead to a reduction in job and life satisfaction and is often associated with the occurrence of psychological and behavioural disorders.

La Torre, G et al. “Definition, symptoms and risk of techno-stress: a systematic review”. International Archives of Occupational and Environmental Health, published online 08 September 2018.

Employers’ support for workers with newly-acquired disabilities

Employers with greater access to resources and a better ability to communicate make the biggest effort to accommodate and retain employees with disabilities, according to this study. However, even this group of employers struggles to deploy resources and processes consistently when making decisions about whether and how to make adjustments for workers with disabilities. Employee-level characteristics, such as the severity and type of disability, affect the ability of employers to act effectively, the study suggests, concluding that “policy makers should consider intervention approaches that reach workers who may be overlooked by employers with scare resources.”

Gould-werth, A et al. “Employers’ perspectives on accommodating and retaining employees with newly acquired disabilities: an exploratory study”. Journal of Occupational Rehabilitation, published online 14 September 2018.

Burnout challenges return-to-work coordinators

Return-to-work (RTW) coordinator help workers get back to work after sickness absence, but their role supporting employees with burnout is particularly challenging due to the complexities of workplace burnout. This is the conclusion of a qualitative study involving coordinators working in Finnish universities and hospitals. It identifies seven groups of RTW activities typically carried out by coordinators, including monitoring staff wellbeing, providing tools to support recovery and monitoring the RTW process. The authors conclude: “Understanding the causes and the consequences of burnout is important for the RTW coordinators to provide adequate and timely support for the workers with burnout in collaboration with the other stakeholders involved in the RTW process”.

Karkkainen, R et al. “Return-to-work coordinators’ practices for workers with burnout”. Journal of Occupational Rehabilitation, published online 29 August 2018.

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