Workers Health & Safety Centre

Work stressors double risk of heart disease in men, study

Workplaces must avoid behaviour-based safety strategies if they wish to address work stressors responsible for excess risk of heart disease, according to Canadian researchers.  
Université Laval researchers tracked more than 6,400 white-collar workers in Quebec for almost two decades from 2000 to 2018. At the outset of this study these workers were free of heart disease. The researchers sought to examine the separate and combined effect of psychosocial stressors including job strain and effort-reward imbalance (ERI) at work on cardiovascular health.
"Considering the significant amount of time people spend at work, understanding the relationship between work stressors and cardiovascular health is crucial for public health and workforce well-being," explained lead study author Mathilde Lavigne-Robichaud, then a doctoral candidate at CHU de Quebec-University Laval Research Center, in an American Heart Association (AHA) press release.  

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What Lavigne-Robichaud and her fellow researchers found adds to the existing mountain of evidence documenting the relationship between negative health outcomes and work stressSpecifically, they found male workers experiencing job strain or ERI were almost 50 per cent more likely to develop coronary heart disease (CHD) compared to men not reporting these same stressors. Men reporting exposure to both stressors had twice the risk of CHD.
The findings, published in the AHA journal Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes also indicate these psychosocial hazards are quite common with almost one in four workers reporting either job strain or ERI and almost one in ten experiencing both.
Job strain occurs when workers face a combination of high job demands and low control over work. ERI occurs when perceived efforts of workers don’t translate into expected rewards such as pay and promotion.

Addressing workplace stressors key to prevention

These Quebec researchers explain, “There is a need for improved recognition of psychosocial stressors at work as important CHD contributors.” They also suggest these stressors should be considered in prevention strategies and emphasized the need to go beyond traditional modifiable individual behaviours.
To this point, lead researcher Dr. Lavigne-Robichaud concluded, "Our study highlights the pressing need to proactively address stressful working conditions, to create healthier work environments that benefit employees and employers."

Results linking job strain and ERI with CHD among women were inconclusive. Though some, including
Dr. Lavigne-Robichaud, think this might be due to the fact women typically develop heart disease later in life (often after retiring from the workforce) compared to men.
In any case, researchers did conclude, “Reducing these stressors could also benefit women, as they are related to other prevalent health problems such as depression.”
In fact, too much stress can lead to a range of debilitating mental injuries including depression, anxiety and sleep disorders. Research also suggests stress is a significant contributing factor to many other health impacts ranging from the common cold and musculoskeletal pain to cancer.

WHSC training…for recognition, prevention and compliance

Other researchers also support the need to get beyond modifying individual behaviours such as support mechanisms and coping options for those already suffering. Yoga, meditation, sleep apps and exercise, have limited effects as these behaviour-based safety (BBS) initiatives do not deal with underlying workplace hazards causing worker harm and fail to promote prevention efforts. Furthermore, they fail to assist Ontario employers and supervisors in meeting their significant legal obligations to protect workers. 
For our part, WHSC offers a range of training programs and resources to help workplace parties better recognize psychosocial hazards and implement workplace efforts needed to prevent exposures and promote worker well-being. This includes Psychosocial Hazards and Workplace Mental Health.  

Employers are also required to ensure supervisors complete training and be competent to carry out their significant obligations to protect workers. This training must be completed within one week of performing work as a supervisor. WHSC Supervisor Training can help workplaces comply.

Joint health and safety committees (JHSCs) and worker health and safety representatives (HSRs) in smaller workplaces also have a legal right to participate in pursuit of healthier work. To ensure JHSCs can effectively act on this right, employers must provide JHSCs in Ontario-regulated workplaces with Certification Training. Many smaller workplaces also choose to partner with the WHSC to ensure HSRs get the training they need.

WHSC low- or no-cost training initiative

For a limited time, WHSC is offering unparalleled discounts, and in some cases no cost, for all of the programs mentioned above and more. If interested, act today as this offer ends on March 31, 2024, or once dedicated government funding runs outs. 



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Want to download and share the Quebec study?
Psychosocial Stressors at Work and Coronary Heart Disease Risk in Men and Women: 18-Year Prospective Cohort Study of Combined Exposures

Other related resources
Stressful work factors driving cardiovascular disease
Work-related stressors impact women and men differently, research finds
Personal coping not the solution for deadly work-related stress, says study
Workplace interventions key to worker mental well-being, study finds
StressAssess app designed to assist workplaces in identifying psychosocial hazards