Occupational Health & Wellbeing research round-up: March 2020

Culinary apprentices, along with those in hairdressing, are exposed to the same inhalant occupational allergens during their training as qualified colleagues, a study has suggested

Predicting occupational allergy in apprentices

Hairdressing and culinary apprentices are usually exposed to the same workplace agents, such as inhalant allergens, during their training as qualified colleagues. This study sought to explore the extent to which it is possible to identify early those individuals most at risk of occupational allergy in order to better manage it. It finds that hypersensitivity to occupational allergens was more frequent in first-year apprentices exposed to high molecular inhalants compared to those exposed to low molecular inhalants. First-year apprentices exposed to the high molecular inhalants more frequently reported rhino-conjunctivitis and dyspnoea, whilst those exposed to the low variety of inhalant more frequently reported skin symptoms.

Lipinska-Ojrzanowska A et al. “Predicting occupational allergy in culinary and hairdressing apprentices”, Occupational Medicine, published online 21 December 2019.

Helping may be harming

Social support at work is generally considered a helpful resource for employees, but this two-part study suggests it can also be a source of workplace stress. Unhelpful workplace social support (UWSS) is defined as any action taken by a manager or colleague that the recipient believes was intended to be beneficial, but is perceived as unhelpful or harmful. The study shows that UWSS is associated with lower self-esteem, lower co-worker satisfaction, higher burnout, higher frustration with the workplace and a range of physical symptoms, including headache and nausea.

C E Gray et al. “Helping may be harming: unintended negative consequences of providing social support”, Work & Stress, published online 27 November 2019.

Preventing blood and body fluid exposure in healthcare workers

An intervention based on education and the use of safety-engineered devices cut the exposure rate to blood and body fluids amongst healthcare workers by 41%, according to this study of an Australian hospital. The intervention decreased the exposure rate from 19 incidents per 1,000 full-time equivalent employees to 11 incidents post-intervention. No exposures resulted in a blood-borne virus infection.

Cheetham S et al. “Education and devices to prevent blood and body fluid exposures”, Occupational Medicine, published online 26 December 2019.

Psychological intervention for injured workers

A psychologically-focused rehabilitation programme is effective in increasing the self-esteem, and reducing the stress response, of employees off work sick because of a work-related injury, according to this Korean study. The 265 employees in the study attended a group rehabilitation programme for two weeks and reported significant increases in self-esteem at follow up.

Woo J et al. “The effect of positive psychology group intervention for occupationally injured employees”, Journal of Workplace Behavioral Health, volume 34, 2019, issue 4, pp287-299.

Access to mental health services after workplace injury

The proportion of employees with a work-related musculoskeletal condition who also experience mental ill health is high, yet the proportion receiving mental health support is low, according to this longitudinal study. Only 41% of this group accessed mental health services during the 18-month observational period – older workers and those achieving a sustained return to work were less likely to use such services, the study finds. The authors conclude: “More work is needed to explore factors associated with mental health service use in this population, including the effect of returning to work.”

Orchard C et al. “Prevalence of serious mental illness and mental health service use after a workplace injury: a longitudinal study of workers’ compensation claimants in Victoria, Australia”, Occupational & Environmental Medicine, published online 2 January 2020.

“Substantial” variation in access to workplace rehabilitation

Participation in workplace rehabilitation varies substantially from employer to employer, according to this Finnish study. The study sampled 30% of all private sector companies in Finland with more than 10 employees aged 25-62 at the end of 2010 and followed them up over the next six years. After controlling for individual factors, it finds that 12% of the variance in the use of rehabilitation was attributed to the company level. The proportion of variance due to company-level factors was greatest in musculoskeletal disorder rehabilitation cases. Employees in larger companies, and in the construction and health/social care sectors, were most likely to receive vocational rehabilitation; whilst those in professional, scientific and technical occupations were least likely to access it. Vocational rehabilitation was also more common in companies with a low proportion of highly-educated workers and with high sickness absence rates.

Laaksonen M et al. “Individual and company-level predictors of receiving vocational rehabilitation: a multilevel study of Finnish private sector workplaces”, Journal of Occupational Rehabilitation, published online 18 December 2019.

Welding and invasive pneumococcal disease

Working as a welder, but also occupational exposures more broadly, increases the risk of developing invasive pneumococcal disease (IPD), this Swedish studies concludes. Welders were almost three times as likely to develop IPD compared with the control group, but all occupational exposures to fumes and silica dust were associated with some degree of elevated odds. The risk associated with IPD with pneumonia followed a similar pattern, with the highest occupational risk observed among welders and those exposed to silica dust. The authors conclude that: “Welders, and potentially others with relevant exposures, should be offered pneumococcal vaccination.”

Toren K et al. “Occupational exposure to dust and to fumes, work as a welder and invasive pneumococcal disease risk”, Occupational & Environmental Medicine, published online 17 December 2019.

Rehabilitation after lumbar discectomy

A range of factors influence the likelihood that an employee will return to work after a first lumbar discectomy (surgical procedure to remove herniated discs in the lower back), according to this cohort study of 351 patients. Just over 60% returned to work, after a median absence of 15 weeks. The probability of achieving a sustained return was associated with: a high education level, positive expectations about future work, a higher physical quality of life pre-operation and less disability.

Schoeler Ziegler D et al. “Returning to work within two years after first-time, single-level, simple lumbar discectomy: a multifactorial predictive model”, Journal of Occupational Rehabilitation, published online 23 December 2019.

Cleaning products and work-related asthma: 10 year update

The percentage of work-related asthma cases attributable to exposure to cleaning products at work remained unchanged in the five year period 1998-2012 compared with 1993-1997, according to this analysis. Three quarters of the cases examined in the latter period were identified in women, and the highest proportions of those affected worked in healthcare, building cleaning or as registered nurses.

Rosenman K et al. “Cleaning products and work-related asthma: 10 year update”, Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, published online 31 December 2019.

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