The inequality of occupational health care in Finland is not socially sustainable. While the Finnish occupational health care system functions well, all through the 2010s, the sickness absence rate in the municipal sector varied between professional groups, with up to four-fold gaps between certain professions. For instance, home care nurses, practical nurses, teaching assistants, cleaners, and hospital assistants were absent from work due to being ill 24–31 days a year, while directors, specialists, doctors, and teachers were annually absent from work only 6–9 days. In addition, the causes of burden at work and work ability risks associated with lifestyle choices in the municipal sector accumulate within certain occupational groups, such as home care and practical nurses, and ever more frequently within younger age groups. Another reason for concern is that the health and well-being of these employees is connected to the health and well-being of patients and customers, in other words, to the quality of services.
Work has an important role to play in the promotion of health and well-being. The majority of employees spend approximately 1,600 hours a year at work. Work itself promotes health, but workplaces can also implement health promotion measures. For example, banning smoking in hospitals and eating candy in schools help people make healthy choices. Workplaces could play an even greater role in promoting healthy lifestyles. Social support from the work community is underutilised as a health promotion resource. Would a couch potato be motivated to go for a walk if we all went as a group?
The traditional way of motivating people to make lifestyle changes has been with the aim of preventing future diseases. For example, encouraging people to lose weight this year so that they will not get type 2 diabetes years or decades from now. Could better results be achieved among the working age population if the aim of lifestyle changes was to improve people’s work ability and recovery from work today? For example, to prevent a truck driver from falling asleep at the wheel; to help a specialist stay alert when attending remote meetings all day long; or a nanny who is not too overweight to care for the children. All health promotion efforts in the workplace should be mindful of the requirements and impact of each job and profession. The results will not be the same with office workers and firemen.
Research in occupational health care is multidisciplinary, combining the branches of (social) epidemiology, (social) medicine, psychology, ergonomics, nursing science, health economics, social sciences, and service system analysis.
The thematic areas of research include risk factors for sickness absence and disability pension, and factors supporting returning to work. Our research addresses the health effects of work-related stress and other psychosocial risks associated with work, and the impact of social capital and other resources on health. Other focus areas for research in occupational heal care include shift work and working time arrangements in the social and health care sector, for example in home care; continuing in working life when a person has a chronic disease, such as type 1 diabetes; and health disparities between occupational groups and the means for closing the gap.
Our research also addresses the history of occupational health care physicians; the impact of medical specialist training in occupational health care and the virtual university in occupational health care; and the integration of occupational health care in other health care.
We carry out extensive research with the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health and many other actors in Finland and abroad.