New paper reviewing the work and health impacts of working in an epidemic/pandemic environment

June 2021: Two early-career PWHS researchers, postdoctoral fellow Dr. Sonja Senthanar and researcher Dr. Jonathan Fan, conducted an umbrella review of reviews examining the work and health impacts of working in an epidemic/pandemic environment. Published in International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, the review addresses the impacts of working during an epidemic or global pandemic on work and health outcomes; the socioeconomic, demographic and work factors that are associated with these outcomes; and potential risk mitigation or intervention strategies that address these factors or outcomes.

The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on work, employment and health are enormous. While the medical and public health research community quickly transitioned to COVID-19 research, the volume being produced presents a challenge to knowledge users. We conducted an umbrella review of reviews to inform evidence-based decision-making and best practices for the work and health of workers during an epidemic/pandemic, and to inform evidence needs for future research priorities. An umbrella review of reviews typically yields the highest quality and most definitive body of evidence.

The key findings of the umbrella review are:

  • Research to date is focused on health care workers’ risk of infection and the negative mental health consequences arising from work in an epidemic/pandemic environment, as well as a variety of individual, social, and organizational factors associated with these outcomes. The review identified the need for research on occupational groups that are potentially exposed to or impacted by the negative work and health effects of COVID-19 in addition to health care workers.
  • Work-related inequities related to job loss and reduced work hours for precarious, low wage workers, women and racialized workers have resulted from the COVID-19 pandemic. Yet, equity considerations were minimally referenced in previous reviews. These considerations should be adopted as a principle of research funding and evidence use.
  • Reviews offered high-level risk mitigation and intervention strategies to address mental health outcomes and infection risk during a pandemic, such as increasing personal compliance with and adequacy of infection prevention and control; developing occupational health and social support systems; or providing appropriate services to reduce distress in health care workers. However, reviews pointed to the need to develop a consensus on core psychological interventions as well as the need to demonstrate effectiveness of intervention and risk mitigation approaches.
  • There is a need for research that considers the long-term consequences of transitioning to the post-COVID-19 economy on work-related health outcomes. Workplaces may face new challenges in accommodating disabled or injured workers during and after a global pandemic. Creating safe and healthy workplaces in a post-COVID-19 economy lies at the intersection of public health, occupational health, workers’ compensation and labour standards, which creates the potential for novel collaborative opportunities.

Read the full umbrella review here.

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