Danish Study Links Occupational Stress Factors with Cardiovascular Disease

In a study, published in the European Heart Journal this week, researchers at a Danish University reviewed the extent to which occupational stressors increase the risk of heart disease.[i]

Between 1995 and 2011, 79,201 participants, aged between 18 and 65, took part in the study. Crucially, none of the participants had a history of cardiovascular disease.

The researchers asked the test subjects whether they had experienced bullying or violence in the workplace in the past year. It was remarked, by lead author Tianwei Xu PhD, that bullying and violence were ‘distinct social stressors at work’, which drastically raise stress levels.

4% (3,229) of the workers in the study were diagnosed with heart disease, or hospitalised after suffering heart attacks, strokes, and similar conditions.[ii]

Responses showed that 9% of participants had been bullied at work, while 13% experienced instances of violence (or threats of violence). Bullying was mostly perpetrated by colleagues, supervisors and subordinates (79%), rather than clients and individuals outside of the workplace (21%). By contrast, the predominant perpetrators of violence were clients and people served by workers (91%), as opposed to supervisors and colleagues (9%).[iii]

Professions with an outsize risk of physical violence, included:

  • Social workers (47%);
  • Personal and protective service workers (29%);
  • Healthcare workers (25%); and
  • Teachers (16%).

Participants who suffered workplace violence were 29% more likely to suffer cardiovascular disease. Those who suffered violence on a daily basis for 1 year were 36% more likely to suffer a stroke than those who did not.

Whereas, participants who suffered workplace bullying were 59% more likely to suffer cardiovascular disease. Those who suffered bullying on a daily basis for 1 year had a 120% higher risk of heart disease than those who did not.

Ms Xu PhD explained that the relationship between work stressors and cardiovascular was a ‘dose-response manner—in other words, the greater the exposure to the bullying or violence, the greater the risk of cardiovascular disease’.

She went on to profess that:

‘If there is a causal link between bullying or violence at work and cardiovascular disease, then the removal of workplace bullying would mean we could avoid five per cent of all cardiovascular cases, and the eradication of violence at work would avoid more than three per cent of all cases’.

Coincidentally, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has, this week, published guidance on mental ill health and first aid (here), to assist employers with the implementation of support programmes.[iv]


[i] Tianwei Xu et al, Workplace bullying and workplace violence as risk factors for cardiovascular disease: a multi-cohort study, European Heart Journal (2018). DOI: 10.1093/eurheartj/ehy683 accessed 20 November 2018.

[ii] Lisa Rapaport, ‘Workplace bullying and violence tied to higher risk of heart problems’ (19 November 2018 Business Insider) <http://uk.businessinsider.com/r-workplace-bullying-and-violence-tied-to-higher-risk-of-heart-problems-2018-11> accessed 22 November 2018.

[iii] European Society of Cardiology, ‘Bullying and violence at work increases the risk of cardiovascular disease’ (19 November 2018 Medical Xpress) <https://medicalxpress.com/news/2018-11-bullying-violence-cardiovascular-disease.html> accessed 22

[iv] ‘New guidance on mental health at work’ (21 November 2018 Health & Safety Matters) <http://www.hsmsearch.com/New-guidance-on-mental-health-at-work> accessed 22 November 2018.