Research

‘Outdated’ physical distancing rules criticised

Current rules on safe physical distancing are based on outdated science, with evidence suggesting the coronavirus responsible for COVID-19 may travel much further than 2m through activities such as coughing and shouting. In an analysis published in the British Medical Journal, Nicholas Jones of Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences, University of Oxford, and colleagues note the rigid physical distancing limit “overlooks the physics of respiratory emissions, where droplets of all sizes are trapped and moved by the exhaled moist and hot turbulent gas cloud that keeps them concentrated as it carries them over metres in a few seconds.” The paper adds that studies have demonstrated airborne spread of virus-containing aerosols of up to 8 metres.

The analysis says rules should take account of a range of factors that can lead to risk. After the cloud slows sufficiently, ventilation, specific patterns of airflow, and type of activity become important. Viral load of the emitter, duration of exposure, and susceptibility of an individual to infection are also important, it adds. The paper concludes: “Physical distancing should be seen as only one part of a wider public health approach to containing the COVID-19 pandemic. It needs to be implemented alongside combined strategies of people-air-surface-space management, including hand hygiene, cleaning, occupancy and indoor space and air managements, and appropriate protective equipment, such as masks, for the setting.”
Read more: Jones, N et al. Analysis: Two metres or one: what is the evidence for physical distancing in Covid-19?, [Full article] BMJ 2020;370:m3223, published 25 August 2020. 

Mobile workers have poorer health outcomes

A new study has found that those people working away from home face greater health and relationship challenges, but there are simple steps that workers, their families, and their employers can do. For the purposes of the study, mobile workers are those who do types of work that include but go beyond FIFO or fly-in-fly-out workers and those who have to commute over 100 km for their work and spend time away from their families and friends.

Researchers from the University of Melbourne and Western Sydney University looked into the personal lives of this increasing group of workers with the aim of improving their wellbeing.

The researchers identified five areas of ‘challenge’ for these workers:

  1. Relationship challenges: The main challenges include the lack and disruption of routines as well as establishing regular and intimate or personal communication with family members and friends
  2. Health challenges: these relate to unhealthy eating habits, lack of maintaining fitness, alcohol consumption and work- or travel-related fatigue, all of which can negatively impact on physical and mental health. These are fostered by the work environment (e.g. lack of access to fresh food or cooking facilities), working culture (e.g. after-work drinks) or work-time pressures (e.g. lack of time for leisure or exercise).
  3. Homemaking challenges: creating liveable, personal spaces while working away can be difficult. Their partners mobile workers can experience a heightened burden of domestic unpaid work responsibilities when they are home alone.
  4. Parenting challenges: Children can suffer from the regular separation from one parent, especially when they are younger. Periods away also challenge the parental authority of the mobile worker and place uneven parenting burdens on the parent who stays home
  5. Employment challenges: job insecurity and unpredictability; and the nature of periodic working and shifting rosters make the establishment of personal relationships and support networks at work difficult, and can hinder career progression. In addition, employment opportunities of partners of mobile workers are also compromised by the periodic work of the mobile worker.

For each of these the authors make a number of recommendations to both the mobile workers and to their employers. For example, one of the recommendations to address relationship challenges is that work rosters should not require workers to be away from home for longer periods than they are at home. 
Read more: David Bissell, Andrew Gorman-Murray, Kim McNamara, Elizabeth Straughan, Living Apart Together: How Working Away Affects Individuals, Households and Wellbeing [pdf]

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