Acute Injury Rates May Be Affected by Chronic Conditions

apple at deskI have heard of workers developing a chronic disease such as obesity or depression after their initial work-related injury. A worker is injured and now stays at home where they are probably less active than they were before the injury, and they are probably not as happy as they were before their injury. That all adds up. However a new study suggests that if a worker already has a chronic disease, they may be more prone to getting injured at work. Can’t catch a break!

The study titled “Contribution of Health Status and Prevalent Chronic Disease to Individual Risk for Workplace Injury in the Manufacturing Environment” was conducted over a 10-year period as researchers studied thousands of workers. Their main findings were that those with specific chronic diseases were more prone to workplace injuries than those who did not suffer these diseases.

What is the relationship between an acute injury at work and a pre-existing chronic disease? The five diseases they looked at were heart disease, hypertension (high blood pressure), diabetes, depression and asthma. They observed 40,000 manufacturing workers between 1997 and 2007, all of whom worked at Alcoa Inc., the world’s third largest producer of aluminum. At least one third of the employees suffered from one of the five diseases.

The study identified increased risks for all but one of the conditions- hypertension was not significantly associated with an increased hazard. When you break it down…

–          Heart disease- increased injury risk by 23%

–          Diabetes- increased injury risk by 17%

–          Depression-increased injury risk by 25%

–          Asthma- increased injury risk by 14%

What does this mean? It means that employers might want to take a harder look at the conditions of their existing employees. Not in the sense of hiring discrimination, that would be wrong. Maybe employers could take a little initiative to understand the health of their employees and give them the help or resources they need to manage their health.  A lot of companies have adopted wellness incentives or stress-relief programs. These help the employer by lowering their health costs and, after this study, possibly decreasing their employees’ chance of injury. It helps the employees by getting them healthy and keeping them safe at work.

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