Occupational health research round-up – October 2012

Stress and heart disease in female workers

High job strain and “active jobs”, but not job insecurity, are related to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD) among women, ­according to an analysis of 22,086 participants in the Women’s Health Study in the US. Women with high job strain – high demand and low control – were 38% more likely to experience a CVD event than those reporting low job strain after ­adjusting for age, race, education and income. Women with active jobs – high demand and high control – were also 38% more likely to ­experience a CVD event than those reporting low job strain. An analysis of outcome data found that high job strain also predicted non-fatal ­myocardial infarction and coronary revascularisation.

“Job strain, job insecurity, and incident cardiovascular disease in the women’s health study: results from a 10-year prospective study”, Slopen N et al, PLoS ONE 7(7).

Psychological symptoms and return to work

Employees reporting psychological symptoms after an injury at work are less likely to return to work, ­according to a study of 2,001 injured employees. Those who reported phobic-anxiety in particular had the poorest chance of returning to work, the study finds, even after adjusting for other risk factors, including ­gender, education level and the type of injury.

“The impact of psychological symptoms on return to work in workers after occupational injury”, Kuan-Han Lin et al, Journal of Occupational Rehabilitation, published online first, 7 August 2012.

More evidence links shift work and vascular disease

Further evidence of an association between shift work and vascular events is provided in a systematic review and meta-analysis of 34 studies. All shift types except evening shifts are associated with a statistically higher risk of coronary episodes, although shift work is not associated with a higher risk of ­mortality, either due to a vascular incident or other cause.

“Shift work and vascular events: systematic review and meta-analysis”, Vyas MV et al, British Medical Journal, 2012; 345: e4800.

Protective-services staff oblivious to hypertension

Employees in the protective -services sector are the workers who are least aware of the risks of hypertension, according to a US analysis of the role of the occupation in the management of cardiovascular risk factors, including hypertension. The researchers, who analysed data for 40 occupational groups, found that protective-services workers were also least likely to have hypertension controlled or treated compared with executive/administrative and managerial workers, even after adjusting for ­socio-demographic factors, body weight and smoking prevalence.

“Prevalence, management and control of hypertension among US workers: does occupation matter?” Davila EP et al, Journal of Occupational & Environmental Medicine, published online first, 9 August 2012.

Value of mental health interventions vague

Evidence for the efficacy of ­workplace interventions to prevent or treat mental health problems ­remains elusive, according to a ­systematic review of 10 economic evaluations looking at either return-to-work interventions or interventions aimed at preventing or treating employees’ mental ill health. Only one study on return-to-work interventions reported positively on cost effectiveness. The authors conclude that workplace interventions to prevent or treat mental health issues might be cost effective, but those based on securing a return to work “do not seem to be cost beneficial”.

“Worksite mental health interventions: a systematic review of economic evaluations”, Hamberg-van Reenen HH et al, Occupational & Environmental Medicine, published online first, 3 August 2012.

Legal news round-up

Employee absent for year entitled to holiday pay

An important ruling involving NHS Leeds found that an employee, Janet Larner, was entitled to paid annual holiday despite being off sick for the entire year in question. The Court of Appeal ruled that the part-time clerical worker was entitled to paid annual leave in 2009/10 despite starting sick leave in January 2009 and never returning to work. The trust dismissed Mrs Larner in April 2010, but did not include an element for paid leave in her compensation package on the grounds that she had neither requested it nor asked for it to be carried forward. Her lawyers ­argued that she had been too ill ­during the year to think about the issue, or to take holidays. Her case had been upheld by the employment tribunal and the Employment Appeal Tribunal before reaching the Court of Appeal.

Compensation for effects of hospital trust’s hand rub

A hospital worker who developed dermatitis after repeatedly using a strong alcohol-based hand rub has received £44,000 compensation. Georgina Thornton, a healthcare ­assistant, left her job after the rub caused her recurring sores. The hospital where she worked, Derriford Hospital in Plymouth, had introduced the rub in 2007 in response to an MRSA scare, and staff were required to use it up to 40 times a day, as well as soap and water, after dealing with each patient. Despite being prescribed several types of steroid cream over the next two years and taking time off sick, the dermatitis returned every time Ms Thornton returned to work. The employer, Plymouth Hospitals NHS Trust, was aware of her condition but nothing was done to address the cause and she was eventually retired on medical grounds. Thompsons, Ms Thornton’s solicitors, argued that the trust had failed to risk-assess use of the hand rub, failed to warn her about the risk of it causing health problems, failed to provide correct training on its use and failed to operate a safe working system.

University technician with cancer awarded pay-out

A former university laboratory technician has received substantial compensation after being diagnosed with mesothelioma, an asbestos-­related cancer. The technician was exposed to asbestos while working in Salford University’s chemical engineering department between the late 1960s and 1980s but was not warned about the risks to his future health or given adequate protection.

Chemical firm fined over dangerous substances

A Welsh chemical company has been prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) after failing to comply with three improvement notices. Euticals failed to demonstrate that it understood how to take measures to prevent major incidents, and how to to limit the consequences of such incidents on employees and the wider environment. The company deals with dangerous chemicals daily yet did not comply with the notices, despite repeated visits from the HSE. Euticals was fined £100,000 and ordered to pay £8,344 costs.

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