Occupational Health & Wellbeing research round-up: April 2020

Mental wellbeing after electric shock

Electricians experiencing electrical accidents at work report more problems with cognition and lower mental wellbeing than non-exposed workers, according to this Swedish survey-based study. However, no long-term objective cognitive dysfunction was detected in a clinical follow-up of participants. The researchers identify a number of factors associated with the reporting of cognitive problems amongst those exposed to electrical shocks at work, including experiencing mortal fear at the time of the accident and experiencing mental symptoms for longer than a week after the accident. They conclude that “emotional response at the time of the accident and health complaints in the aftermath of the accident may constitute important indications for medical and psychological follow-ups.”

Thomee S et al. “Cognition and mental wellbeing after electrical accidents: a survey and a clinical study among Swedish male electricians”, International Archives of Occupational and Environmental Health, published online 8 February 2020.

Bringing together what belongs together: mental health and organisational performance

Mental health at work and organisational performance must be considered in tandem for both to be effective, according to an editorial in the latest issue of the journal Work & Stress. The author, Christine Ipsen, argues that any organisational change programme seeking to boost performance must also consider the mental health of employees. Conversely, any mental health intervention must consider the concerns and performance targets of the organisation. Some organisations are beginning to implement new ways of working that take both mental health and organisational performance into account, according to Ipsen. For example, Hilton and Cisco Systems have introduced initiatives that focus on shorter working weeks, longer weekends, reduced overtime and more parental leave, all of which correlate with improvements in both employee mental health and company performance.

Ipsen C. “Addressing mental health and organisational performance in tandem: a challenge and an opportunity for bringing together what belongs together”, Work & Stress, volume 34, 2020, issue 1, pp1-4.

“Inadequate” rehabilitation advice after hip and knee surgery

There is wide variation in the timing, content and delivery of information and advice for working patients intending to return to work after hip and knee replacement surgery, according to a national survey of 152 health providers and professionals. Only 20% of professionals report that they identify working patients as a specific sub-group in need of additional support. Overall, 62% of survey participants did not routinely offer any return-to-work advice. When given, such advice was almost always verbal, generic and based on the professional’s anecdotal experience rather than the patient’s individual needs. Over three quarters of survey participants felt an occupational advice intervention was needed, prompting the authors to describe current advice to hip and knee replacement patients as “inadequate”.

Tsang B et al. “National survey of occupational advice for lower limb arthroplasty patients”, Occupational Medicine, published online 3 February 2020.

Female firefighters’ alcohol use

Female firefighters shift their alcohol consumption behaviours in the direction of male counterparts over the first three years in the job, according to this study. For example, median consumption for women firefighters was 0.9 drinks per week at baseline, which increased to 1.27 a week in the third year of firefighting employment. Female firefighters also reported binge drinking, with nearly half bingeing at least once a year across all time points. The percentage reporting binge drinking three or more times a month doubled over the course of the study (from 9% to 18%), matching the rates of bingeing among male firefighters. Problem drinking was associated with a positive screening for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) at year one, and depression at year two, but not with occupational injury.

S B Gulliver et al. “Alcohol use and mental health symptoms in female firefighter recruits”, Occupational Medicine, published online 6 February 2020.

Lung cancer mortality in construction workers

The risk of lung cancer death with five years’ service in the construction industry is comparable with the risk associated with having a personal cancer history, a family history of cancer or a diagnosis of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, according to this US study. The study examines predictors of lung cancer mortality, beyond age and smoking, among construction workers employed at the US Department of Energy, arguing that the results support the inclusion of risk from occupational exposures in the clinical guidelines for lung cancer screening in the industry.

Dement J M et al. “Lung cancer mortality among construction workers: implications for early detection”, Occupational & Environmental Medicine, published online 29 January 2020.

Work retention and persistent back pain

Why do some individuals with persistent back pain continue to actively engage in work whilst others adjust poorly to the condition and find work retention difficult? This qualitative study using semi-structured interviews explores this question and identifies two factors motivating individuals to continue working with back pain: work forms part of their self-schema (a cognitive framework that includes one’s beliefs about oneself) and work makes it possible for them to achieve a valued outcome.

McKillop A B et al. “What motivates engagement in work and other valued social roles despite persistent back pain?” Journal of Occupational Rehabilitation, published online 3 February 2020.

What do cancer survivors need to stay in work?

Cancer survivors often have strong personal desires to resume work to feel productive and meet financial needs. However, the physical and psychological challenges can be significant, and this study explores what people need to return to, or stay, in work. It identifies four key aspects of the return-to-work process for cancer survivors: individuals’ changing perspectives of self and work; managing work and social systems; disclosure of the cancer and relevant adaptations; and the importance of supports for rehabilitation and daily life.

Berger I et al. “Exploring the needs of cancer survivors when returning to or staying in the workforce”, Journal of Occupational Rehabilitation, published online 3 February 2020.

Employer burnout

The risk of burnout those who are employers is almost four times that of full-time employees, after adjusting for all possible risk factors, according to this Taiwanese survey. Burnout was measured using the Copenhagen Burnout Inventory’s four core items.

Lin K et al. “Employer or Employee: who is more likely to suffer from burnout?” Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, published online 6 February 2020.

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