Workers Health & Safety Centre

Stressful work factors driving cardiovascular disease epidemic

Workers work on installing the motherboard to a 32-inch TV
Precarious work is a significant contributor to cardiovascular disease (CVD), according to a recently published study.
“Neoliberal global economic policies and the rise of the new flexible labor market have caused an increase in precarious employment in advanced industrialized countries,” said Dr. Marnie Dobson, an assistant adjunct professor at the University of California, Irvine Center for Occupational and Environmental Health and co-author of the study Globalization, Work, and Cardiovascular Disease.
This precarity, she explains, “includes increased job insecurity and increased exposure to psychosocial work stressors, such as higher workloads, lower job control and lower work-related social support. These work stressors in turn contribute to CVD risk factors such as obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure.”
Cardiovascular disease, including heart disease and stroke, is responsible for about 30 per cent of all deaths worldwide. Here in Canada, approximately one in four deaths are the result of CVD.
The authors of this study question the medical explanation for this CVD epidemic which generally holds individuals ultimately responsible for their health in terms of their individual vulnerability (i.e., family history and genetics) and unhealthy behaviours. This “medical model”, they write, mostly ignores or minimizes the importance of social (“upstream”) causes of disease, such as socioeconomic status and the conditions of work. 
They offer instead a theoretical model illustrating how economic globalization affects the job market and work organization that is leading to an increase in stressful employment factors in “high-income countries”. In addition to the precarious work factors mentioned above, the lack of control over work-life balance, long work hours and rise of technology forcing workers to stay “connected” at all hours are also cited as further stressors adding to CVD risk. 
In conclusion, the researchers offer a range of workplace and policy actions aimed at prevention, including:
  • Implementing national surveillance of occupations, industries, and workplaces to identify elevated levels of hazardous work characteristics;
  • Passing laws or rules to limit work stressors;
  • Creating upper limits on weekly and yearly hours to reduce CVD risk;
  • Mandating vacation time (to facilitate recovery);
  • Creating a “living wage” so that workers are not forced to work excessive hours/jobs to make ends meet; and
  • Passing legislation that increases the economic security of precarious workers.

Equally important, the researchers recognize “Working people are usually the most knowledgeable about the existence of unhealthy working conditions. Thus, participation of workers in all aspects of research and in designing and implementing organizational change is crucial to the conduct of feasible and successful intervention programs.”
For our part, the Workers Health & Safety Centre continues to assist all workplace parties through training programs and information services aimed at raising awareness about stressful employment factors and targeting prevention at the workplace level.

To learn more:
Call:     1-888-869-7950 and ask to speak with a training services representative
Want to read Work, Globalization and Cardiovascular Disease?
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