Heart Health on the Job
March 27, 2023
Every February, the U.S. and Canada observe Heart Month to raise awareness about cardiovascular diseases and the behaviors we can all implement to reduce our risk.1 All throughout the year, heart health is a vitally important issue for both employees and employers to keep top-of-mind.
Heart disease, which can include coronary artery disease, arrhythmias or heart failure, is the leading cause of death in the U.S.2 Almost half of all Americans have at least one of the major risk factors of heart disease: high blood pressure, high cholesterol and smoking tobacco.3 In Canada, heart disease is the leading cause of hospitalization and 9 out of 10 Canadians have one or more risk factors for heart disease or stroke.4,5
While most people know about the links between heart health and smoking or cholesterol, there are several other lesser-known factors that increase your risk for cardiovascular problems. Mount Sinai’s Selikoff Centers for Occupational Health outlines several of these6, including:
- Stress – Chronic stress affects hormone levels that impact how your body’s cardiovascular and nervous systems work. Stress can also lead to unhealthy coping mechanisms, such as smoking and excessive alcohol consumption, that can increase your risk for heart disease. Recent surveys have shown that the workforce in many critical sectors—including manufacturing and transportation, logistics and warehousing (TLW)—are more stressed than ever. One survey found that 47% of industrial workers are stressed out at their jobs and 24% of warehouse and transportation workers said their job had a negative effect on their mental health.7
- Shift Work & Sleep – Work outside of daytime hours is associated with heart disease and high blood pressure. People who sleep less than seven hours also have a higher prevalence of obesity, type 2 diabetes and hypertension, according to recent research published by the Journal of the American Heart Association.8
- Noise Exposure & Vibration – Prolonged exposure to noise higher than 80 decibels can cause an increase in blood pressure. Furthermore, vibration of part of the body or the whole body (such as when using tools or driving a forklift) can a¬ffect the cardiovascular system.9
- Heavy Lifting – Physical activity in general is well-known to decrease your risk of heart disease. This refers primarily to leisure physical activity, however, which is usually high-intensity, short-duration and involves dynamic postures. On-the-job physical activity, on the other hand, tends to be long-duration, involves repetitive motion and has insufficient recovery time, which can lead to inflammation.10 One such occupational activity, heavy lifting, has been shown to increase your risk of a heart attack.11
- Exposure to Heavy Metals & Solvents – Workers in construction, manufacturing or production of insecticides can be exposed to metals like lead, cobalt or arsenic. These exposures have been linked to high blood pressure and heart damage. In addition, exposure to solvents in paint stripping, in refrigeration or at hazardous waste sites can increase risk of arrhythmia, or irregular heart rhythm.12
What Workers Can Do: Know Your Numbers and Stick to the Seven
So, what can be done to decrease your risk of heart disease, particularly if your job involves one of these risk factors? As an employee, knowing your numbers—blood pressure, blood sugar, cholesterol, weight, body mass index (BMI), etc.—is a good place to start. Taking advantage of a biometric screening at your workplace or during your annual doctor’s visit will give you a baseline understanding of your personal risk level.
The American Heart Association (AHA) has developed “Life’s Simple 7” to help people improve their heart health through both behavior changes and regular screening. Comprised of the seven most important predictors of heart health, the Simple Seven include:
- Stop Smoking
- Eat Better
- Get Active
- Lose Weight
- Manage Blood Pressure
- Control Cholesterol
- Reduce Blood Sugar13
As discussed earlier, research suggests adding “Improving Sleep” as a critical eighth measure of heart health.14 Mount Sinai also recommends additional behaviors to reduce your risk: managing stress levels through mindfulness techniques and exercise, wearing appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) to help reduce toxin exposure and using ergonomics to decrease worker physical fatigue and increase feelings of control.15
What Employers Can Do: The Critical Link Between Health and Safety
The AHA notes that businesses have “a unique opportunity to promote cardiovascular health, because more than 60% of U.S. adults are employed, and most spend half of their waking hours at work.” Despite this, fewer than 1 in 5 companies have a comprehensive workplace health program;16 the industrial sector is lagging behind in this area as compared to those with “desk jobs.”17
Starting in 2003, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) created the Total Worker Health® initiative, which brings together the dimensions of worker safety, health and well-being to create integrated interventions businesses can use.18 NIOSH provides a number of resources on Total Worker Health to help organizations identify steps to improve their workforce’s safety, health and well-being and measure their progress toward goals.
Honeywell is committed to helping keep workers both safe and healthy; we help protect the lives of more than 500 million people each day. To learn more about our products or our safety programs, visit our website.