We all suffer from stress. At home. At work. And in between home and work. Stress is known to contribute to health problems. But did you know that stress can also lead to safety hazards on the job?
What is stress?
“Job stress can be defined as the harmful physical and emotional responses that occur when the requirements of the job do not match the capabilities, resources, or needs of the worker. Job stress can lead to poor health and even injury.”
Stressors can be external (from the environment, psychological or social) or internal (illness, medical procedure) and everyone has different coping abilities along with a different tolerance for how much stress he or she can handle.
Stress: Workplace Safety and Health
Stress is often correlated with health issues, especially heart disease; however, it is also a legitimate workplace safety issue. When a worker is under a great deal of stress, he or she has the potential to be an unsafe worker.
Stress creates a distraction. For employees who operate heavy machinery, climb ladders or do some type of manual labor, stress can take their attention off what they are doing. This can lead to slips, trips and falls on the job; injuries from failing to operate the equipment in the right manner, and so much more.
But the safety of any worker can be impacted. For instance, an office worker may be thinking of a sick parent while walking down the hall, not notice a wet floor sign or spills on the floor and have a slip and fall accident.
Stress is more of an intangible. You don’t see it like you do when a worker is wearing personal protective equipment such as a hard hat or eyewear, but it manifests itself in many ways, such as:
- Fatigue or continued tiredness
- Lack of concentration and focus
- Low morale
- Anxiety or irritability
- Alcohol or drug use
- Overeating or loss of appetite
- Workplace violence
Role of Workplace Safety Professionals
The person or group responsible for establishing safety protocols at your workplace can play a role in ensuring your company has the right safety processes and procedures that are also tied in with the company’s health and wellness programs. These are just a couple of examples that your company may want to consider.
- Review the illnesses and injuries that have been reported at your company to determine if the root cause is stress-related.
- Partner with the health and wellness professionals at your company to conduct an anonymous audit to find out what are the stressors in your company.
- Train supervisors, managers and safety professional on how to identify and deal with potential stressors.
Potential job stressors that managers, supervisors, health and wellness coordinators and workplace safety professionals should look for include:
- Excessive workloads, long work hours, not enough time to complete a job
- Management style, poor communication, little recognition for job performance
- Interpersonal relationships, lack of support from co-workers, prejudice or discrimination issues
- Unreasonable performance demands, too much responsibility, uncertain job expectations
- Job insecurity, lack of growth opportunities
- Inflexible rules, ergonomic issues
This “Stress at Work” brochure from NIOSH outlines steps that a company can take to develop and implement intervention programs.