Occupational Health & Wellbeing research round-up: December 2020

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Fatigue and workplace exercise programmes

Work-related fatigue is related to a range of negative consequences, including poor productivity. This study investigates the extent to which exposure to a workplace exercise intervention affects employees’ health and wellbeing trajectories throughout the intervention and their experiences of the exercise regime.

It finds that sufficient exposure to the programme, and optimal exercise experiences, contribute to the success of the intervention for fatigued employees and that these beneficial effects are visible at an early point in the programme.

De Vries J D et al. “Process evaluation of the receipt of an exercise intervention for fatigued employees: the role of exposure and exercise experiences”, European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology, published online 6 October 2020.

“Many thousands” of work-related Covid events unreported

Doctors are required by law to notify suspected work-related Covid-19 deaths to the coroner and employers also have a legal duty to report such work-related deaths (and incidents) to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). About 9,000 cases of Covid-19 disease attributed to exposure at work – including at least 125 deaths – have been reported to the HSE so far, according to its second summary.

This study aims to assess the adequacy of these statutory means of reporting and investigating suspected workplace Covid-19 transmission and finds that the coroners’ guidance allows a wider range of reports of deaths due to the virus than the HSE’s regulatory provisions.

The author concludes that “current HSE guidance for reporting work-related Covid-19 may miss many thousands of cases and needs further iteration. Coroners have very limited experience of inquiry into occupational disease caused by biological agents compared with the HSE. Concerns regarding national policy such as on protective equipment warrant a full public inquiry.”

Agius R M. “Covid-19: statutory means of scrutinizing workers’ deaths and disease”, Occupational Medicine, published online 21 September 2020.

Working with Parkinson’s disease

People with Parkinson’s disease exit the workplace on average five years earlier than workers without the condition, due to motor, cognitive, communicative and affective symptoms. However, there are few employment resources available for employees and employers designed to support people with Parkinson’s in work.

This study, based on focus groups involving 16 workers with the condition and 10 clinicians and a literature review, identified three key needs for a workplace approach to the condition: knowledge about the available employment support options, the need for a clinician to start discussions about working with the condition and an individualised and flexible approach to employment-related interventions.

Rafferty M et al. “Employment resources for people with Parkinson’s Disease: a resource review and needs assessment”, Journal of Occupational Rehabilitation, published online 6 October 2020.

Multi-carcinogen exposure at work

Workers can be exposed to a range of carcinogenic agents at work but most studies focus on the prevalence of a single one, resulting in knowledge gaps regarding the extent of multiple exposure, according to this Australian study. It finds that 81% of exposed workers were assessed as being exposed to more than one carcinogen and 26% reported exposure to five or more carcinogens. Multi-carcinogen exposure was more likely among men, but less likely amongst older workers.

McKenzie J F et al. “Prevalence of exposure to multiple occupational carcinogens among exposed workers in Australia”, Occupational & Environmental Medicine, published online 18 September 2020.

Workplace exercise programme for nursing assistants

A therapeutic exercise programme is effective in improving the muscle strength and low back symptoms of nursing assistants, according to this randomised controlled trial involving 129 hospital-based staff.

The programme lasted 12 weeks and included warm-up, strengthening and stretching exercises and, on average, participants attended 17.5 sessions. Results showed increased trunk flexor muscle strength, improved pain threshold for dorsal longissimus and reduced low back symptoms.

However, no differences were observed between participants and the control group for back extensor muscle strength or flexibility. The authors conclude that exercise programmes can form part of a low-cost strategy in a hospital setting to “avoid the progress of disability among active nursing personnel.”

Moreira R F C et al. “Effects of a workplace exercise program on physical capacity and lower back symptoms in hospital nursing assistants: a randomised controlled trial”, International Archives of Occupational and Environmental Health, published online 16 September 2020.

Reflective leadership and workplace mental health

Leadership interventions on workplace mental health that incorporate both reflective and interactive components in a group setting are effective in a healthcare setting, according to this systematic literature review. After an initial search revealed 11,221 hits, seven studies were deemed eligible for detailed review. All studies showed at least a moderate global validity and four showed statistical significant improvements in employee mental health as a result of leadership interventions involving seminar days on maintaining and fostering mental health.

Stuber F et al. “The effectiveness of health-oriented leadership interventions for the improvement of mental health of employees in the health care sector: a systematic review”, International Archives of Occupational and Environmental Health, published online 4 October 2020.

Stress in early-career child welfare workers

New child welfare recruits experience a significant worsening in their perceptions of physical and emotional wellbeing in the first six months of their careers, according to this study of 578 employees. Data on physical health included self-reported indicators and information on sleep disturbance, whilst measures for emotional wellbeing included psychological distress.

Information was collected in four waves during the recruits’ first 18 months in the job and suggested that physical wellbeing appeared to stabilise over time after the initial six months but that emotional wellbeing continued to decline.

Wilke D J. “Examining occupational stress in early-career child welfare workers”, Journal of Workplace Behavioral Health, published online 11 September 2020.

Financial wellbeing pays off

Employee financial wellness programmes are a relatively new type of employee benefit but evidence on their effectiveness in addressing workers’ financial challenges and financial stress remains thin. This study of three caregiving organisations suggests that in-person, face-to-face promotion of a programme, together with active support from senior management, are key factors in encouraging take-up of financial wellness.

Frank-Miller E G et al. “Financial wellness programs in the workplace: evidence from employers in the caregiving industry”, Journal of Workplace Behavioral Health, published online 5 October 2020.

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