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New Research Aims To Reduce NZ’s High Rate Of Work-related Illness

Every year, 750 to 900 New Zealanders die prematurely due to work-related illness, yet little is known about the effectiveness of workplace interventions to address these health issues.

WorkSafe New Zealand and the Health Research Council (HRC) have today announced new joint funding for two research projects that will explore how to reduce work-related ill health in small and medium-sized organisations in New Zealand.

The focus of this round of funding is on how to tackle risks at work that may negatively affect workers’ mental wellbeing: factors such as high or low work demands, low job control, low social support, low recognition and reward, all of which are linked to harm such as stress, anxiety and depression.

Massey University Associate Professor David Tappin has received a $1.2 million grant to develop, implement and test interventions to reduce exposure to work-related psychosocial hazards in small and medium-sized organisations in New Zealand’s manufacturing, health and education sectors.

Small and medium-sized organisations are the largest group of employers in New Zealand and the group with the least available resources.

Senior psychology lecturer Dr Lixin Jiang from the University of Auckland will use her $396,000 grant to carry out a systematic review of organisational-level interventions to combat psychosocial hazards, evaluate their effectiveness, and make any necessary modifications to reflect the unique needs of New Zealanders.

WorkSafe New Zealand spokesperson Dr Angela Mansell says while the country is making progress addressing work-related injuries, the health and safety system needs to better address work-related health risks and the harm associated with them.

“New Zealanders are fifteen times more likely to die from a work-related disease than injury at work. Our most recent estimates show mental ill health accounts for about 17 per cent of work-related harm, with musculoskeletal disorders accounting for a further 27 per cent,” says Dr Mansell.

The Health Research Council’s new chief executive, psychiatrist Professor Sunny Collings, says these projects will help provide the evidence base needed to make a tangible difference to work environments to support the mental wellbeing of New Zealand workers.

“It’s widely acknowledged that many businesses focus on physical hazards and risks, primarily because addressing the less tangible risks to a worker’s mental health is seen as difficult compared to other health and safety issues,” she says.

“We’re thrilled to team up with WorkSafe New Zealand to support research that will help reduce worker stress and anxiety in a range of workplace settings,” says Professor Collings.

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