Occupational Health & Wellbeing research round-up: June 2020

The pandemic could have a long-term indirect effect on health, research has suggested. Image: Shutterstock

Covid-19 to have lasting impact on workplace health

The potential adverse impact of the current pandemic on workers’ health extends beyond the direct risks to those on the frontline to include those who have lost employment, and even those still employed but not on the frontline, according to an editorial in Occupational & Environmental Medicine. For example, prolonged teleworking introduced as a result of Covid-19 may lead to mental health problems due to long-term isolation and lack of workplace interaction, it suggests. However, amid the gloom, there may be some beneficial longer-term impacts on workplace health. For example, measures introduced to protect workers from the virus may lead to better preparedness in the future in the face of subsequent infections, by encouraging employees’ take up of vaccinations, reversing historically low vaccination rates. The pandemic may lead to better personal hygiene at work in the longer term, and to greater physical distancing. Some other workplace changes introduced as a result of Covid-19, such as the replacement of face-to-face meetings and conferences with online and virtual ones, are likely to persist after the pandemic, contributing to positive environmental effects, the editorial suggests.

Sim M R . “The Covid-19 pandemic: major risks to healthcare and other workers on the front line”, Occupational & Environmental Medicine, published online 1 April 2020.

Why do supervisors bully?

The poor performance of a team can trigger bullying behaviour from managers, according to this survey-based study of 130 teams in an organisation. Faced with low performance in their team, supervisors with a high prevention focus tend to experience greater emotional exhaustion, which prompts them to display abusive behaviours, it finds. The authors, therefore, conclude that organisations need to improve supervisors’ stress management skills in order to prevent poor stress management triggering bullying.

X-L Fan et al. “Why do supervisors abuse subordinates? Effects of team performance, regulatory focus, and emotional exhaustion”, Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, published online 2 March 2020.

EAPs need to target hard-to-reach groups

Employee assistance programmes (EAPs) need to target outreach activities at men and other hard to reach groups, according to this Canadian research. The research also recommends that EAP counsellors receive more diversity training and that EAP services develop a greater digital capacity in order to meet some employees’ preferences for non-face-to-face counselling.

Bartram M et al. “Applying gender-based analysis plus to Employee Assistance Programs: a Canadian perspective”, Journal of Workplace Behavioral Health, published online 26 March 2020.

Soft paper dust and lung function

Occupational exposure to soft paper dust is associated with impaired lung function, and high exposure to the dust increases mortality due to asthma, according to this study of 7,870 Swedish paper mill workers. Those with high exposure were over four times as likely to die from asthma, compared to those with low exposure. The results prompt the authors to suggest that soft paper dust levels in workplaces should be kept below 5mg/m3.

Toren K et al. “Occupational exposure to soft paper dust and mortality”, Occupational & Environmental Medicine, published online 2 April 2020.

Education level and early exit from work

Poor physical and mental health are important risk factors for early exit from work due to ill health for older workers. This study of longitudinal data from four European countries looks at whether education level is also a factor. It finds that older workers with lower levels of education are more likely to report poor health, functional limitations and depression, and to exit the workforce early due to ill health. In some countries, including England and the Netherlands, functional limitations were stronger factors in predicting early exit from work in the lower educated. This finding prompts the authors to conclude that “lower educated older workers are an important target group for health policy and intervention”.

De Breij S et al. “Educational differences in the influence of health on early work exit among older workers”, Occupational & Environmental Medicine, published online 8 April 2020.

Supportive work environments for people with chronic conditions

The development of a supportive work environment can help employees with chronic health conditions sustain employment. Current workplace interventions for people with chronic conditions focus on return-to-work or bringing about a reduction in sickness absence at the level of the individual employee. This study describes a six-step, evidence-based intervention to create a supportive work environment in an organisation, starting with a needs assessment. The intervention outcomes and performance objectives of employees with conditions, and the role of occupational physicians (OPs), are set out in step two and appropriate methods and practical applications to achieve these are described in step three. Step four describes the actual development of the intervention, which will be implemented in a pilot study involving OPs (steps five and six).

Bosma A R et al. “Development of an intervention to create a supportive work environment for employees with chronic conditions: an intervention mapping approach”, Journal of Occupational Rehabilitation, published online 21 March 2020.

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