From The Ergoweb® Learning Center

Industry and Research Updates

Liberty Mutual Names Dr. Ian Noy as Head of its Research Institute for Safety

The Liberty Mutual Group announced on January 26 the appointment of Ian Noy , Ph.D. CPE, to head the company’s Research Institute for Safety. He will replace Tom Leamon, Ph.D. CPE, who retires at the end of 2006.

The Institute, which works to prevent workplace injuries and control work-related disability, is the only occupational health and safety research facility owned and operated by an insurance company. At any given time, there are approximately 70 research projects underway in the Institute’s 11 laboratories.

“With Ian Noy’s extensive research and development experience, I am confident that the Research Institute will continue to build upon its 50 year legacy of workplace safety contributions,” said Edmund F. Kelly, Liberty Mutual Group chairman, president and CEO.

According to Liberty Mutual, Dr. Noy, who earned his Ph. D. in Industrial Engineering and Human Factors at the University of Toronto, has over 30 years of professional experience in ergonomics, human factors and motor vehicle safety. He most recently served as director of Standards Research and Development in Transport Canada’s Road Safety Directorate. His applied research experience spans applications of human performance and operating systems in the air, on the ground and underwater, including military research and development. He has published over 100 scientific and technical reports, and conference and journal articles.

Source: Liberty Mutual Group

Research: Cost of Absenteeism and Presenteeism Underestimated

Findings released in December by the Wharton School at Pennsylvania University build on earlier research to take some of the guesswork out of estimating the costs of absenteeism and presenteeism – when people continue to work despite illnesses that reduce their productivity.

The Wharton study, reported by, found that an absence costs a company 1.61 times the worker’s daily wage. The cost varies by industry, the amount of teamwork the job requires and the worker’s education. Costs are smallest where employees work at measurable tasks and work individually.

The researchers looked at 35 jobs in 12 industries, and interviewed 800 managers. The found absence costs are lowest in the mining and construction industries and highest in industries like finance, insurance, real estate, transportation and communications.

“Traditional measurement methods, even those that include the cost of absence measured at the wage, are likely to underestimate the true benefit of programs that improve worker health, reduce absenteeism, improve on-the-job productivity, and reduce turnover,” according to the Wharton paper.

The Wharton researchers concluded that presenteeism costs even more than absenteeism, but didn’t provide figures.

A paper by Ron Z. Goetzel, Ph.D, published in The Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine in April 2004, put some numbers on the problem. Dr. Goetzel is Director of the Cornell University Institute for Health and Productivity Studies. The Institute and a private firm, Medstat, used an insurance database on medical conditions and absences of about 375,000 employees over three years. They combined these with published studies on productivity, and concluded that presenteeism accounts for up to 60 percent of the total cost of employee illnesses.

Sources:; CONNECT; Cornell University Institute for Health and Productivity Studies.

New Study Gives Cell Phones a Clean Bill of Health

The largest and latest study of cell phones and cancer clears the mobile devices of causing brain tumors. In January researchers found no link between the risk of glioma – the most common type of brain cancer – in 2,782 cell phone users across the United Kingdom. But questions about risk remain.

Published in the British Medical Journal and reported by the BBC in January, the study involved scientists from Leeds University, the Institute of Cancer Research and the University of Nottingham. They spoke to 966 people diagnosed with glioma and 1,716 without the condition in five areas of the United Kingdom. All 2,783 were interviewed about the ways they used their cell phones over the previous 10 years – how much, how often and how often with hands-free apparatus. The type of cell phones was also noted.

Reporting the findings, Patricia McKinney, Professor of Pediatric Epidemiology at Leeds University, reported “no increased risk of developing a glioma associated with mobile phone use” for regular users. She acknowledged that there appeared to be an increased risk among brain cancer sufferers on the side of the head where they held the phone.

The team attached little causal significance to the side-of-head finding, blaming it on biased reporting from cell phone users in the study who knew which side of the head their tumor was located.

The Health Protection Agency said the research was good news, but that it did not give mobile phones a clean bill of health. The Agency said it would not be changing its advice that children should not make unnecessary mobile phone calls.

The United Kingdom report is the latest word on the issue, but is unlikely to be the last. The biggest open question is the potential long term impact. The study covered only the most common type of brain cancer, and the findings appear to be limited to regular users. The scientific community, which remains divided on the risk issue, could challenge the findings because of gaps like these.

Source: BBC

Scientists Find First Biological Link Between Work Stress and Heart Disease-Diabetes Syndrome

Stress in the workplace has been linked to heart disease and diabetes for a long time, but a biological link has eluded scientists. Researchers at the University College London believe they have identified the missing link.

Their study of 10,000 civil servants linked stress and metabolic syndrome, which involves obesity and high blood pressure. The findings, published in the British Medical Journal and reported by the BBC in January, provide evidence “for the biological plausibility of psycho-social stress mechanisms linking stressors from everyday life with heart disease.”

Between 1985 and 1999 the team measured levels of work stress four times. >From 1997 and 1999 they also measured the different aspects of metabolic syndrome – a cluster of factors that cause heart disease and diabetes, such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol levels. The study took in factors such as social class, smoking, high alcohol consumption and lack of exercise.

The researchers discovered a link between the amount of stress experienced in their job and the levels of metabolic syndrome symptoms, even discounting the other risk factors. The relationship suggested that levels rise as stress increases. Prolonged exposure to work stress could affect the nervous system, they explain, and may reduce biological resilience.

The study also found that both men and women from lower employment grades were more likely to have metabolic syndrome, confirming reports that social status is linked to the risk of the syndrome.

Commenting on the findings for the BBC, a Diabetes UK spokesman said the study was “interesting” and confirmed what had long been suspected.

Source: BBC


This article originally appeared in The Ergonomics Report™ on 2006-02-01.