Could hypertension be an occupational disease?
That’s the question addressed in an excellent article in HealthAffairs.
The short answer is there are many factors that contribute to or mitigate risk for hypertension, however the physical and psychological hazards associated with the worksite do correlate with hypertension risk.
Specifically, psychological demands such as how often one is required to work fast and without errors are correlated with blood pressure while more freedom for workers to make independent decisions is associated with lower blood pressure.
The research looked at about 14,000 Alcoa blue-collar workers over a 16-year period and included surveys as well as medical billing data. While other external factors are indeed important, the researchers concluded:
workplace environmental exposures may as a whole contribute substantially to hypertension among US blue-collar workers. We found evidence for this across multiple exposures in the categories of psychological hazards and the plant social environment.
Note that this study resulted from a partnership between a very large employer and researchers. I’d hazard a guess that a study involving less paternalistic employers would show stronger correlations with greater impact.
What does this mean for you?
Employers have long known the worksite is a factor in employee health and productivity; this research clearly indicates hypertension could be characterized as an occupational disease specifically associated with employment.
Note – HealthAffairs has been doing really good work of late on workplace health and exposures. Put their site on your reading list.