Occupational Health & Wellbeing research round-up: November 2020


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Work-related allergic symptoms in bakers

Bakers using multigrain flour are at a high risk of experiencing nasal and asthma-like symptoms, according to this survey of Italian bakeries. Around 25% of bakers using only wheat flour experienced work-related nasal symptoms, rising to 34.1% of bakers using flour with additives and multigrain. The risk of work-related asthma symptoms more than doubled in bakers using additives with or without multigrain, compared with bakery shop assistants.

Olivieri M et al. “Exposure to additives or multigrain flour is associated with high risk of work-related allergic symptoms among bakers”, Occupational & Environmental Medicine, published online 27 August 2020.

Barriers to work after coronary bypass surgery

Coronary artery bypass grafting is the most frequently performed cardiac surgical procedure yet return-to-work after such an operation is often complex. This study identifies four main groups of barriers to rehabilitation after bypass surgery based around personal, healthcare, work and regulatory factors. The personal barriers were split further into physical, cognitive, social and individually-determined factors. The authors conclude that, to overcome these identified barriers, “the process of return to work could preferably be initiated during the hospital phase, started during cardiac rehabilitation and coordinated by a case-managing professional.”

Blokzijl F et al. “Barriers that obstruct return to work after coronary bypass surgery: a qualitative study”, Journal of Occupational Rehabilitation, published online 16 August 2020.

Covid-19 and individual susceptibility

Effective occupational health and safety is “vitally important” in enabling the UK economy’s recovery post-lockdown, according to this article. Rehabilitation, in particular, is vital to national recovery and the issue of worker susceptibility to Covid-19 needs to be addressed, particularly that of employees working in operations that require closer contact than government limits, for example, hairdressing and social care. The authors suggest that any changes to working practices may last for a long time into the future and that there may be a need for some form of national policy – “even a statutory instrument: The Covid at Work Regulations”.

Kalman C J. “Covid-19 Individual susceptibility: health and safety management”, Occupational Medicine, published online 2 September 2020.

“I don’t want to go back”: heading back to the office

Employers need to adopt nuanced policies on returning staff to the physical workplace after a period working from home because blanket policies may ignore the different needs of different employee groups, according to this survey-based research. The survey of 333 energy workers finds that women, non-Caucasians and employees living in multi-generational households were less willing to return to the physical workspace. Concerns about childcare, and knowing someone who had been infected with Covid-19, were also negatively related to a willingness to return, the survey finds. “Employers and policy makers should adopt flexible approaches to ensure a return to workspaces that addresses employee concerns and needs,” the authors conclude.

Zihan L et al. “I don’t want to go back: examining the return to physical workspaces during Covid-19”, Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, published online 26 August 2020.

Traumatic perinatal events and burnout in midwives

Exposure to traumatic perinatal events experienced by women in their care contributes to burnout amongst midwives, according to this survey-based study. Over 90% of the 137 midwives in the study had experienced exposure to a traumatic event at work in the previous year, and 58% reported this occurred at least monthly. The extent of distress experienced was positively related to burnout and there was a significant difference in work-related burnout between midwives with less and more experience.

Amir Z and Reid A J. “Impact of traumatic perinatal events on burnout rates among midwives”, Occupational Medicine, published online 8 September 2020.

Vaping at work

Workplace vaping is a trigger for smoking and vaping among current and former tobacco users, according to this research. Among tobacco users, 46%-48% reported that workplace vaping was a trigger for smoking and vaping and 7% of former users reported it as a trigger. Over 80% of employees would welcome a “quit vaping” programme, yet such interventions were offered by only one third of the workplaces examined, prompting the authors to conclude “a gap exists between desired support for vaping cessation and current employer-sponsored cessation programmes”.The study also finds that vaping by employees’ children resulted in absence and presenteeism among around a third of parents.

Graham A L et al. “Vaping in the workplace: implications for employer-sponsored  tobacco cessation programs”, Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, published online 1 September 2020.

Universal basic income, precarious employment, and rehabilitation

The Covid-19 pandemic has thrown a spotlight on existing forms of social welfare, and led to discussion of possible alternatives, including the concept of a universal basic income (UBI), according to this Canadian analysis. The authors argue that a positive UBI policy could have a positive impact on rehabilitation and return-to-work (RTW) structures, but may have different implications depending on how it is implemented. The main advantage of UBI is that it offers financial stability to individuals that is never uncertain or questioned, making it particularly attractive for those in precarious jobs or the gig economy, who are often excluded from other state benefits. However, the writers accept that UBI is “unchartered territory”, and that the best evidence on its effects result from limited pilots and experiments. Its application to rehabilitation and RTW is largely unexplored, not least its impact on the dynamics between the different stakeholders involved in the RTW process.

Stahl C and MacEachen E. “Universal basic income as a policy response to Covid-19 and precarious employment: potential impacts on rehabilitation and return-to-work”, Journal of Occupational Rehabilitation, published online 26 August 2020.



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