Research

Controversy over how COVID-19 spreads

COVID-19 has been considered as a droplet transmitted disease by WHO, which means that it can be prevented using surgical masks, hand hygiene and surface disinfection/cleaning. The droplets, expelled when we cough, sneeze and speak, quickly fall to the ground or onto other surfaces.

However, there is increasing evidence suggesting that SARS-CoV-2 (the virus) may also be found in droplet nuclei, defined by WHO as respiratory droplets smaller than 5 µm, which can travel on long distances and remain in suspension in the air for a long time. Now 239 scientists are pleading for action, warning people they are not as protected as they may think.

The scientists, from 32 different countries and many different areas of science (including virology, aerosol physics and epidemiology), have written an open letter urging the WHO to change their advice. “We ignore COVID-19 airborne spread indoors at our peril,” the scientists say.

The letter, led by internationally recognised air quality and health expert Lidia Morawska from the Queensland University of Technology, appeals to public health organisations like the WHO to address the “overwhelming” research on the dangers of microdroplets. These are the very tiny respiratory particles (of 5 microns or less in diameter) that are emitted when we breathe, speak, laugh, sing and so on. This has huge implications as because of their size, these particles remain suspended in the air for long periods, well after any person infected may have left the area. It also has implications for the PPE needed to provide adequate protection for health and other ‘frontline’ workers.
Read more: Gehanno JF, Bonneterre V, Andujar P, et al. How should data on airborne transmission of SARS-CoV-2 change occupational health guidelines? [Full letter pdf] Occup Environ Med July, online first; The big COVID debate dividing scientists and the WHO, The New Daily  

High physical demands shorten working life expectancy

In another of those "D'oh" research projects, Danish researchers have found that workers with high physical work demands had a significantly lower working life expectancy (WLE), than those with low physical work demands. 

The researchers said that as political reforms in most European countries were gradually increasing the statutory retirement age to counter the economic costs of a growing elderly population, they wanted to study the impact of high physical work demands on WLE, as working for longer may be difficult for people with hard physical jobs.

They combined physical work demands assessed by job exposure matrix (JEM) and longitudinal high-quality national registers (outcome) in 1.6 million Danish workers to estimate WLE and years of sickness absence, unemployment and disability pension.

They found the largest differences were among women. At the age of 30, women with high physical work demands could expect 3.1 years less working, 11 months more of sickness absence and 16 months more of unemployment than low-exposed women. For 30-year-old men, the corresponding results were 2.0 years, 12 months and 8 months, respectively.
Read more: Pedersen et al. 2020. High physical work demands and working life expectancy in Denmark. [Full article]. Occupational and Environmental Medicine. Source: Comcare Emerging Evidence Alert, June 2020 [pdf]

Workplace support has positive impact on work-life balance

According to new research from Michigan State University (USA), a positive team culture where people feel the support of their managers and colleagues (co-worker support) has a significant impact on work-life outcomes. Across two studies of over 5500 working adults, co-worker support had a positive impact on workplace culture and environment, which in turn enhanced work-life balance, improved job satisfaction and reduced turnover.

This research suggests some practical examples for employers to enable these positive outcomes from co-worker support by providing more opportunities for social interaction and informal engagement with teams, to giving people the chance to develop support systems among their colleagues. This can include team building activities, but also extends to social interactions such as celebrations, exercise and informal gatherings.

The study also noted there are future opportunities for employers to better understand other factors that enhance work-life balance, including leadership development, organisational culture and management policies.
Read more: Norling and Chopik: The Association Between Coworker Support and Work-Family Interference: A Test of Work Environment and Burnout as Mediators [Full article] Frontiers in Psychology, 05 May 2020. Source: Comcare Emerging Evidence Alert, June 2020 [pdf]

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