Creating mentally healthy workplaces in uncertain times

There has been research into the factors that help manage and support workplace mental health for some time. International insights and findings have helped shape workplace policies and preventative workplace interventions that are now at the forefront of navigating a COVID-safe transition for Australian workers and workplaces.

A systematic review and meta-analysis on the association between work-related psychosocial risk factors and stress-related mental disorders undertaken by researchers from the Netherlands provides up-to-date insights into this issue. The study identifies that the following workplace factors reduce the incidence of stress disorders for workers, which, in turn, may improve mentally healthy workplaces:

  • effort-reward balance
  • procedural and relational justice
  • achievable job demands
  • co-worker and supervisor support
  • adequate emotional demands
  • greater decision authority.

The research draws on data from over 73,000 workers from Belgium, Denmark, England, Finland, Japan, the Netherlands and Sweden.

Read more: van der Molen HF, Nieuwenhuijsen K, Frings-Dresen MHW, et al, Work-related psychosocial risk factors for stress-related mental disorders: an updated systematic review and meta-analysis [Abstract] [Full articleBMJ Open 2020;10:e034849. doi: 10.1136/bmjopen-2019-034849

Mental health and work attitudes among people resuming work

The COVID-19 pandemic caused an economic downturn and increased the unemployment rate in China – as it has all around the world. As a result, workers face health and social economic stressors. In order to assess their mental health and ‘work attitudes’, a group of Chinese researchers undertook a cross-sectional study of people who returned to work after the Spring Festival holiday during the COVID-19 pandemic.

They identified that the major risk factor for mental health was worrying about unemployment. They found that worker resilience and optimism were two main protective factors for mental health and for workplace engagement. Further, they found that the nature of the organization, job status, age, position and income changes were also related to these work attitudes. They concluded that their findings shed light on the need for organization administrators to be aware of the status of and factors associated with employees’ mental health and work attitudes during the COVID-19 pandemic. As such, building resilience and fostering optimism in the  workplace may help create a more mentally healthy workplace and maintaining positive work attitudes in the face of adversity.

Read more: Song, L, et al, Mental Health and Work Attitudes among People Resuming Work during the COVID-19 Pandemic: A Cross-Sectional Study in China [Open Access Article], Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2020, 17(14), 5059;

Hazelwood mine fire affected respiratory health of unborn children

A study published online by the Medical Journal of Australia has revealed that the Hazelwood coalmine fire exposed unborn children to respiratory damage. The fire occurred in February 2014, and started as a result of bushfire embers from surrounding bushfires.

WorkSafe Victoria subsequently charged the company in charge of the mine with five breaches of failing to maintain a workplace under its management and control that was safe and without risks to their health and safety arising from the conduct of its operations, and five breaches of failing to ensure that people other than its employees were not exposed to risks to their health and safety arising from the conduct of its operations. The operators were fined more than $1.9 million by the Supreme Court of Victoria

Australian researchers analysed data from 79 children who were exposed to the Hazelwood smoke while in utero, 81 who were 0-2 years old when exposed to the smoke, and 129 who were conceived after the fire.

They found that for children who were exposed in utero, each 10µg/m3 increase in mean daily PM2.5 exposure was associated with increased reports of runny nose/cough, wheeze, seeking health professional advice, and doctor diagnoses of upper respiratory tract infections, cold or flu.

In those exposed during early childhood each 100 µg/m3 increase in peak 24-hour PM2.5 exposure was associated with the increased use of asthma inhalers, but not any the health outcomes that were measured.

The authors concluded that their findings:

  • suggested an increased susceptibility to acute respiratory infections during childhood after exposure in utero to a severe air pollution episode. Severe episodic smoke events from bushfires and planned burns are common in Australia (and elsewhere), and their number will increase with climate change;
  • highlight the particular vulnerability of the very young, including unborn babies, to insults during critical developmental periods and the importance of protecting them during landscape fire smoke events and other causes of air pollution;
  • suggest that in utero exposure to smoke may have a greater impact on long term respiratory health than exposure during the first two years of life
  • suggest that protecting pregnant women and young children from episodic severe smoke events be central to public health responses to poor air quality

Read more: Willis, G A, et al, Respiratory and atopic conditions in children two to four years after the 2014 Hazelwood coalmine fire [Full article] Med J Aust doi: 10.5694/mja2.50719. Published online: 24 August 2020. Source: OHS Daily News, SafetyCulture

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