Research

Cumulative work exposures increase mental risk

Australian researchers have found that being exposed to poor quality work at each phase of their 12-year study increased participant workers' odds of developing a mental disorder by 30 per cent.

The study of almost 1,300 workers, led by Dr Lay San Too of the University of Melbourne's Centre for Mental Health, found 41 per cent were employed in poor quality jobs during at least one of the four study waves between the early 2000s and 2013.  Poor quality roles included those with excessive demands, experienced by 54 per cent of participants. 47 per cent experienced high job insecurity and 46 per cent low job control.

The researchers found that at the end of the study period about 21 per cent were suffering a common mental disorder, like depression or anxiety. They found "each additional exposure to poor job quality over time was associated with a 30 per cent increase in the odds of subsequent common mental disorder".

They said their results highlight the detrimental effect of cumulative exposure to poor psychosocial job quality on mental health - many previous studies have shown poor psychosocial job conditions lead to mental health problems, but only a small number examined whether an accumulation of such exposure over time has a greater negative impact.

"These findings underline the important role of adequate psychosocial job quality in preserving mental health and suggest that the risk of common mental disorder could be reduced by ensuring better quality work," the researchers say. These modifiable psychosocial risk factors "should be a focus of workplace policy to prevent common mental disorder in workers, which could then have flow on benefits including a reduction in sickness absence and increased productivity at work". They noted, however, the participants were between the ages of 40 and 46 and the findings may not be able to be generalised to other age groups.  

Resources: more information about Psychosocial hazards, and the VTHC Standard here. Download materials and a psychosocial risk survey to use in your workplace here

Read more: Lay San Too, et al, Cumulative impact of high job demands, low job control and high job insecurity on midlife depression and anxiety: a prospective cohort study of Australian employees. [Abstract] Occupational and Environmental Medicine, online first November 2020, doi: 10.1136/oemed-2020-106840. Source: OHSAlert 

Black and Asian people at increased risk of COVID-19

Black people are twice as likely as white people to catch the coronavirus, a study of 18 million people suggests, with higher exposures at work one of the contributory factors needing attention.

Researchers at the Universities of Leicester and Nottingham say their findings, based on an analysis of US and UK studies, are of “urgent public health importance” and raise questions about how vaccines will be prioritised within at-risk groups. The authors, whose study is published online in the journal EClinical Medicine, note: “Our findings should inform public health strategies to minimise exposure risk of SARS-CoV-2 in ethnic minority groups, by facilitating timely access to healthcare resources, and targeting the social determinants, structural racism, and occupational risk underlying inequities.”

The research examined data from 50 studies - 42 from the United States and eight from the UK. Lead researcher Dr Manish Pareek said there are many explanations behind the heightened risk, including people from ethnic minority groups being more likely to be employed in frontline roles and more likely to live as large households with several generations. He added that so far he had seen little evidence to suggest the risks were driven by genetic factors. He said he hoped the findings would be taken into account in discussions about prioritising vaccines for people already considered to be at high risk.
Read more: Shirley Sze, Daniel Pan, Clareece R Nevill and others. Ethnicity and clinical outcomes in COVID-19: A systematic review and meta-analysis, [Full study] EClinical Medicine, Open Access. Published: 12 November 2020. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.eclinm.2020.100630 BBC News OnlineSource: Risks 974

Professional drivers at increased risk of cancer

Professional drivers are facing a routine and serious health risk from diesel exhaust fume exposures at work. In what they described as “the largest real-world in-vehicle personal exposure study to date”, researchers from the MRC Centre for Environment and Health, Environmental Research Group and Imperial College London, found that professional drivers are regularly exposed to hazardous levels of diesel emissions as part of their work. Other studies have linked diesel fume exposure at work to lung and blood cancer and heart, lung and other diseases. 

The new study funded by safety professionals’ organisation IOSH found that professional drivers are disproportionately affected by exposure to diesel exhaust fumes, including taxi drivers - the worst hit group - couriers, bus drivers and drivers working for the emergency services. Dr Ian Mudway of Imperial College London, who led the DEMiSt research team, said: “We believe there are around a million people working in jobs like these in the UK alone, so this is a widespread and under-appreciated issue – indeed, it was very noticeable to us just how surprised drivers taking part in the study were at the levels of their exposure to diesel.” In total, 11,500 hours of professional drivers’ exposure data were analysed in the baseline monitoring campaign. The results showed that, on average, professional drivers were exposed to 4.1 micrograms of black carbon per cubic metre of air (µg/m3) while driving, which was around four times higher than their exposure at home (1.1 µg/m3). The levels recorded at home would be similar to levels experienced by office workers at their desks, the researchers said. The study found massive exposure spikes often occurred in congested traffic within Central London, in areas where vehicles congregate, such as in car parks or depots, as well as in tunnels and ‘street canyons’ (between high buildings).
Read more: IOSH news release and full reportSee: Diesel - a declared carcingogenHazards magazine feature Fuming, factsheet Diesel out and poster Die diesel dieSource: Risks 974

Asthma risk linked to permanent night shift work

Shift workers, especially those working permanent night shift rosters, may be at heightened risk of moderate to severe asthma, new UK research has indicated. Approximately one in five employees in the developed world works permanent or rotating night shifts. Shift work causes a person’s internal body clock (circadian rhythm) to be out of step with the external light and dark cycle, the researchers note, adding this misalignment is associated with a heightened risk of various metabolic disorders, cardiovascular disease, and cancer.

The new findings, published online in the journal Thorax, drew on medical, lifestyle, and employment information supplied between 2007 and 2010 by 286,825 participants in the UK Biobank. The researchers from several UK and US universities compared the effect of working office hours with shift work on asthma diagnosis, lung function, and symptoms of asthma. After taking account of age and sex, and a wide range of other potentially influential risk factors,  there was a 36 per cent increase in the odds of having moderate to severe asthma in permanent night shift workers compared to those working normal office hours. Similarly, the odds of wheeze or airway whistling were 11-18 per cent higher among those working any of the three shift patterns, while the odds of poorer lung function were around 20 per cent higher in shift workers who never or rarely worked nights and in those working permanent night shifts. “The public health implications of our findings are potentially far-reaching, since both shift work and asthma are common in the industrialised world,” the authors warn. Asthma affects 339 million people worldwide and costs health and care services more than £1 billion in the UK alone.
Read more: Maidstone R, Turner J, Vetter C and others. Night shift work is associated with an increased risk of asthma, [Full text] Thorax, Published Online First: 16 November 2020. doi: 10.1136/thoraxjnl-2020-21521. More information on Asthma Source: Risks 974. 

 

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