Occupational Health & Wellbeing research round-up: October 2020

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Work environment risk factors for MSDs

Ergonomic improvements and stress reduction interventions are likely to cut the prevalence of sickness absence due to musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs), according to this study of 12,452 healthcare workers. Heavy physical work and strenuous work postures were both risk factors for short- and long-term sickness absence (defined as fewer than 28 days and more than 104 days respectively). Similarly, high job demands and low job control each increased the risk for both types of absence compared with employees with low job demands and high job control. None of the work characteristics identified as possible risk factors, except strenuous postures, increased the risk for long-term absence due to psychological problems.

Leineweber C et al. “Work environment risk factors for the duration of all cause and diagnose-specific sickness absence among healthcare workers in Sweden: a prospective study”, Occupational & Environmental Medicine, published online 6 August 2020.

Walking to the copier is good for you

Walking a greater distance from your office to the photocopier is associated with a smaller waist circumference, according to this study of 108 office-based workers. Similarly, having a desk or workstation further away from the entrance to a building is correlated with a lower body fat percentage. Associations and correlations were also found between the distance from desk to the bathroom, and between sedentary breaks, distance to the break room and distance from the printer/copier. The authors conclude that “worksites interested in improving the health of their employees should consider how building design affects occupational physical activity and health”.

Gay J L et al. “Associations between office location and adiposity in office workers”, Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, published online 5 August 2020.

Using e-health records in OH practice

Electronic health records (EHRs) are widely used in OH practice to improve the exchange of information between the professionals involved in a patient’s care. However, this study finds that OH physicians report that the routine tasks involved in using EHRs are not straightforward. They state the documentation of patient data for statistical purposes takes an unreasonable amount of time and that access to patient data provided by other organisations is poor. Usability problems with EHRs reported by OH doctors include its slowness, unexpected downtime and difficulties in obtaining patient data. The study concludes that “OH physicians’ work is best supported by EHRs that consider their specific role in healthcare, ie the assessment of work ability, the coordination of care and rehabilitation and support for return to work.”

Nissinen S et al. “Occupational health physicians as users of electronic health records”, Occupational Medicine, published online 5 August 2020.

Health promotion and inequalities

Workplace health promotion programmes may help reduce socioeconomic inequalities, but further research is required, according to this systematic review of studies published from 2013 onwards. In total, 13 studies provided information on the effectiveness of health promotion across socioeconomic groups, 10 of which reported equal effectiveness across groups and one (with three comparisons) reported that workplace health promotion was most effective for lower socioeconomic groups.

Van de Ven D et al. “Are workplace health promotion programmes effective for all socioeconomic groups? A systematic review”, Occupational & Environmental Medicine, published online 22 July 2020.

Onsite physiotherapy and injury prevention

Onsite physiotherapy can provide benefits for both workers and employers when delivered as part of a programme to introduce early intervention injury prevention, but its ongoing contribution once an injury prevention programme is up and running is unproven. This US study of a meat processing plant finds that, although injury rates did increase slightly when onsite physiotherapy was removed, the cost of the associated compensation claims fell significantly, by $847 per claim for all injury types. The authors conclude that “once an injury prevention program was embedded within an organisation, onsite physiotherapy services were able to be discharged without significantly and negatively impacting demonstrated benefits and injury outcomes.”

Donovan M et al. “The contribution of onsite physiotherapy to an integrated model for managing work injuries: a follow-up study”, Journal of Occupational Rehabilitation, published online 14 July 2020.

Dialogue-based rehab boosts managers’ competence

Using a dialogue-based approach to return to work, facilitated by a rehabilitation coordinator, can boost managers’ competence and capacity to act in complex cases, according to this study. The intervention, which included a joint meeting between manager, employee and coordinator, aimed to facilitate dialogue and find concrete solutions to enable return to work. It concludes that managers boosted their capacity to make adjustments at work and to share responsibility with the employee. An added value was that the 16 managers in the study started to take preventive measures with other employees using the skills learned from participating in the intervention.

Eskilsson T et al. “Enhanced capacity to act: managers’ perspectives when participating in a dialogue-based workplace intervention for employee return to work”, Journal of Occupational Rehabilitation, published online, 31 July 2020.

Carer-employees benefit from educational intervention

A workplace intervention designed to educate and support care-givers at work was associated with a reduction in their reporting of ill health symptoms, depression and psychosocial issues over time, according to this small scale study.

Ding R et al. “Evaluation of a caregiver-friendly workplace program (CFWP) intervention on the health of full-time caregiver employees (CEs)”, Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, published online 3 August 2020.

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