Online Program

Jagged path: An exploration of return to work among workers with occupational respiratory disease

Monday, November 4, 2013 : 10:50 a.m. - 11:10 a.m.

Jeanette M. Zoeckler, MPH, SUNY Upstate Medical University Department of Family Medicine, Occupational Health Clinical Centers, Syracuse, NY
Michael B. Lax, MD MPH, Family Medicine SUNY Upstate Medical University, Occupational Health Clinical Centers, Syracuse, NY
Christopher P. Morley, PhD, Department of Family Medicine, SUNY Upstate Medical University, Syracuse, NY
Donald Cibula, PhD, Central New York MPH Program and Center for Research and Evaluation, Department of Public Health and Preventive Medicine, SUNY Upstate Medical University, Syracuse, NY
BACKGROUND Return to Work (RTW) after occupational respiratory injury is a complex phenomenon that has been understudied. Much of this research has emphasized the role of personal factors with little attention paid to the broader social context. This qualitative study sought to explore factors that impact the ability of workers with work-related respiratory disease to return to work. METHODS The Occupational Health Clinical Center (OHCC) in Syracuse, New York provides diagnostic, treatment, and prevention services. A retrospective chart review of OHCC patients was undertaken using a mixed methods research design. The quantitative analysis was previously presented (APHA 2012). For the qualitative portion of the study, a subset or workers (n=21) underwent in-depth interviews, which were analyzed for themes related to return to work. RESULTS Worker/patients must navigate complex webs of legal, financial, social, and medical circumstances when attempting to return to work with work-related respiratory disease. Interviews identified a number of common themes including: employer and Workers' Compensation insurance carrier actions; delays in diagnosis; personal attitudes about illness; financial need and lack of union support as factors impeding return to work. . CONCLUSIONS Workers emphasize that efforts to control exposures in the workplace to accommodate injured workers are rare. These experiences strongly suggest that changes in employers' actions and attitudes would likely improve RTW rates. Improved access to occupational medical services, union support, and pathways to job retraining are other changes that could positively impact RTW. Understanding workers' experiences plays an important role in effectively addressing the RTW problem.

Learning Areas:

Occupational health and safety

Learning Objectives:
Identify factors which influence work status outcomes for patients with work-related respiratory disease. Describe common assumptions found in Return to Work literatures. Identify themes deemed important by worker/patients experiencing work-related respiratory illness. Assess the relative strengths of mixed methodology (medical chart review followed by in-depth interviews), especially as applied to “return to work.”

Keyword(s): Occupational Health, Occupational Disease

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: As a recent graduate (MPH 2011), my work in the field of occupational health research was informed by my previous experience in the social sciences as a researcher in health psychology. I co-designed and conducted this mixed-methods study. I carried out the interviews for the qualitative phase of this study using the research lens of a social scientist, having presented the quantitative portion of this study at APHA in 2012.
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.