Study investigates whether workplace “makes
Psychologists at Nottingham University will examine whether workplace sights,
sounds and smells that have previously coincided with the onset of an illness
could later re-trigger the same symptoms.
The findings would give employers the chance to predict environmental factors
that cause illness and allow them to take preventative measures, the team say.
They are particularly interested in whether environmental factors have an
impact on levels of non-specific symptoms, such as headaches, fever, swollen
glands, sore throats, digestive problems and general malaise, says researcher
Dr Eamonn Ferguson.
Such non-specific symptoms are significant causes of staff absenteeism. As
well as proving costly to businesses, they place a strain on the NHS budget,
the team say.
“We will be looking at whether the sorts of odours, sights or sounds that
might be around a place can, in fact, produce biological illness responses in
people,” says Dr Ferguson.
“Perhaps just the sight of the buildings where they work or their office
door could be enough to revive their symptoms.”
The study will cover a range of workplaces, including the pharmaceutical and
service industries, and determine whether levels of non-specific symptoms
vary. Researchers are also keen to establish the effects of working with
They will carry out detailed case interviews with staff and ask them to keep a
diary of the frequency and severity of their symptoms, along with details of
the jobs they do and other environmental factors, over the course of a year.
A smaller group of around 25 people will also be asked to provide swabs of
saliva to be tested for the chemical cortisol – associated with stress –
which will allow researchers to study their symptoms in relation to changes in
their immune system.
The study is being funded by the Health and Safety Executive.
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