Hidden Workplace Safety Risk: Chronic Medical Conditions

Prevent Accidents with Screening Technology

Impairment from a chronic condition is a hidden risk

If not monitored carefully, a wide variety of chronic medical conditions, including arthritis, anxiety, or insomnia, can cause serious accidents in the workplace. In the United States chronic diseases affect 6 in 10 adults and are a leading cause of death and disability. The reason many chronic health conditions contribute to erosion of workplace safety and decreased productivity, is that they are linked to cognitive impairment. There are, however, steps employers can take to reduce their exposure to this risk, including tools to measure this type of impairment.


What is a Chronic Disease?


The Center for disease control defines chronic diseases broadly as “conditions that last 1 year or more and require ongoing medical attention or limit activities of daily living or both.” There are many chronic diseases which cause cognitive impairment, to one degree or another, and, as such, are cause for concern as a workplace safety issue. A partial list of cognitively impairing chronic conditions includes:

  • ADHD

  • Alcohol Dependence

  • Arthritis

  • Asthma

  • Alzheimer’s Disease

  • Bowel Diseases

  • COPD

  • Cystic Fibrosis

  • Depression and Anxiety

  • Diabetes

  • Eating Disorders

  • Epilepsy

  • Chronic Fatigue

  • Heart Disease

  • Lupus

  • Obesity

  • Oral Health

  • Osteoporosis

  • Severe Stress

  • Sleep Disorders (including insomnia and sleep apnea)

Unfortunately, the effects of these chronic conditions go well beyond obvious disease-specific symptoms to include:

  • Invisible symptoms, such as pain, fatigue, disturbed sleep, brain fog, and mood disorders

  • Stress, including the stress of managing the medical condition, which over the longer term may lead to anxiety or depression

  • Physical limitations, such as stiffness, weakness, or restricted range of motion

  • Cognitive impairment, including degradation of executive function, attention, mental processing speed, hand-eye coordination, balance, learning, memory, and decision-making.

Traditional methods fall short

The Difficulty in Detecting and Managing Impairment Due to Chronic Conditions


Impairment from chronic conditions can be difficult to detect or predict. It may not be at all obvious that someone is impaired.


The impairments associated with chronic illness tend to be systemic, affecting the whole person. Of the hundreds of chronic illnesses, the most common impairments relate to chronic pain and fatigue, resulting in decreased stamina for everyday activities like walking, standing, concentrating, and learning.


Chronic illness symptoms are multi-causal, unpredictable and unstable. While mobility, sensory and learning impairments tend to be stable, chronic illness fluctuates in severity on a day-to-day basis. There are days when an individual can function normally, days when they cannot, and days with limited functionality. Bad days are unlikely to be predictable.


Monitoring Impairment for Workplace Safety


Impairment from chronic conditions is of particular concern for workplace safety in high-risk industries such as construction, manufacturing, mining, transport, agriculture, and public safety. Given the large range of chronic conditions which can cause cognitive impairment, detection and monitoring are a critical component of workplace safety.


The National Safety Council (NSC) has recently advocated for including chronic conditions as part of a broader definition of impairment and has published a report on impairment detection technology.


In the workplace, particularly in safety sensitive jobs, regular testing for impairment is likely to detect when an individual is having one of those “bad” days. If so, steps could be taken to prevent the occurrence of a safety issue. An individual found to be significantly impaired that day could be removed from a high-risk assignment, reassigned, or sent home. Since impairment testing detects impairment regardless of the cause, nor does it identify the cause, it avoids the kind of stigma associated with drug testing. The individual’s privacy is maintained. Additionally, an objective measure of impairment can assist individuals in managing their illness, if they know what they are suffering from. It may bring them to a better understanding of when they may need to rest or check in with their health provider.


Using Impairment Detection Technology to Screen for At-Risk Worker


Just such an objective measure of impairment is provided by the Druid app from Impairment Science, Inc. Using Druid, safety managers are able to put in place an important measure in their ongoing quest to mitigate accidents on the job. Not only does Druid reduce the chance of job-related injuries, it is part of a broader approach to promote employee health and better match a worker’s duties with their abilities.


References:

1. Chronic Conditions, Workplace Safety, And Job Demands Contribute to Absenteeism And Job Performance

2. https://www.ohscanada.com/features/cognitive-health-a-hidden-challenge-with-workplace-implications/

3. https://www.shrm.org/hr-today/news/hr-magazine/pages/coping-with-cognitive-declines-at-work.aspx

4. Study shows relation to cognitive failure and accidents https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7482705/

5. https://osa.gse.harvard.edu/chronic-illness-not-widely-viewed-disability-needs-change

6. https://www.cdc.gov/chronicdisease/center/news-media/index.htm



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