Is stress an occupational Hazard?
What comes to mind when you hear the term occupational-hazard?
For many of us, when we think of occupational hazards, broken bones, body pains, slips, and falls, needle sticks, among other injuries come to mind. Today, I am here to discuss stress, one of the major occupational hazards that is often overlooked by many employees and employers.
I attended a conference recently and one of the topics presented was occupational hazards. The speaker listed workplace stress as an occupational hazard. Although I have long considered stress as a serious problem in the work place, I have never looked at it as a hazard. Indeed, stress can be compared to that of an ill placed ladder, a sharp’s-box in an emergency room, or a man working on a building without protective gear. As the concept grew in my mind, I realized that this speaker knew what he was talking about when he called workplace stress an occupational hazard. Every employee is susceptible to occupational hazards.
After the conference, I decided to conduct a literature review to see what the findings were for stress as a hazard in the workplace. Sure enough, I found several articles, which listed workplace stress as one of the major occupational hazards. In one study, Occupational Health Hazards Among Healthcare Workers in Kampala, Uganda, the researchers found that for non-biological hazards stress accounted for the highest at 21.5 %, 10.5 % accounted for physical, psychological, sexual, and/ or verbal abuse, and musculoskeletal injuries 10.5% (Ndejjo, et al. 2015).
If you are in a working environment where you are experiencing high levels of work related stress, I urge you to seek help before the potential becomes a reality. While you might be tempted to ignore the issue, it might be within your own interests to consider what you are facing. How long have you been exposed to the stressful situation? What have you done regarding the issue? Is the specific workplace stress constant or is it intermittent? Do you have sleepless nights, headaches, chest pain, or anxiety attacks, because of the issue? Your answers to these questions will determine the hazard and the urgency with which you should seek help.
Occupations, such as those in healthcare, education, the legal system, and banking system should have measures in place to discuss the issue of occupational related stress. Stressful situations can affect an individual’s productivity and customer/client services. Employers should make it a priority to discuss any stressful issues faced by employees, thus reducing the potential for workers calling in sick because of stress. According to the House of Common, United Kingdom, report (2008), about 75% of workers who called in sick were due to musculoskeletal disorders and stress. Employees should have knowledge of the resources available within the organization to deal with stress management: the information should also be readily accessible. Unfortunately, the issues which cause employees to become exposed to occupational hazards can also lead to a trickle down effect. Hence, Issues such as workplace conflict, inefficient services, poor performance, poor judgement, poor decision-making, and abuse of those who are on the lower end of the employment scale is cause for immediate concern.
As we become aware of stress as an occupational hazard, we should take steps to prevent ourselves from succumbing to this hazard. Research findings, related to occupational hazards, caused me to question the number of institutions, which actually consider stress when addressing occupational hazards. How many of these institutions have plans in place to manage occupational stress? Are these plans just sitting around or are they reviewed, and applied to employees’ situations? Smith, Mc Namara, & Wellens (2004) suggested that Rather than tackle the causes of occupational (demands, lack of control, lack of support, poor relationships, role conflicts, and change) separately, employers should look at the stress related issues as connected issues and work together with employees to develop stress management standards for their respective organizations. As part of these standards, employers will also be able to focus on how best they can address institutional issues such as long work hours, shortage of staff, increased work demands, and increased customer expectations. For further review on a common phenomenon with the work place take a read of the article Women Vs. Women: Reducing the Culture of Hostility in the Workplace.
The recommendation, by the House of Commons, caused me to reflex on the many times when I experienced severe stress in the workplace and but did not know where to turn. While I was aware of how to document other occupational hazards such as needle stick injury, I was not aware of any written policies or institutional standards for stress management. Because of my constant exposure to stressful elements within the workplace, I always felt at risk for stress related conditions including high blood pressure and heart attack. I remember feeling pain in my chest one time and thinking that I might have had a heart condition. Later on, as I reflected on my thoughts, I immediately laughed and said to myself, “Ophelia, you were being quite dramatic.” As ridiculous as it sounds, I honestly felt scared for a moment because I knew the amount of stress I was experiencing in the workplace, which ranged from the work demands of working long hours to breakdown in communication and interpersonal relationship issues.
At the end of it all, our human resource is our most important commodity. Every organization and institution should take measures to protect those who work within their systems. Stress is an occupational hazard and we must treat it as such. Just as there are manuals filled with other occupational hazards and their management, employers owe it to their employees to develop and integrate stress management as part of their occupational hazard management. No longer can we take work related stress as an individual issue. Resolving Workplace Conflict Goes Beyond Simply Leaving One’s Problems at Home.
We are living in an age where information and research findings are readily available to the public. Employers and employees can take the initiative to conduct literature review of the issues relating to stress in the work place, and use the findings to develop policies, which meet the demands of the stressful work environment. As seen in the research findings and report, the benefits of specific stress management policies far surpass the disadvantages. Ultimately, one of the major goals of employers should be to create an integrative occupational hazard management system for employees, which takes stress into serious consideration as an occupational hazard.
House of Commons Work and Pensions Committee. (2007-2008). The Role of the Health and Safety Commission and the Health and Safety Executive in regulating Workplace and Safety. Retrieved from https://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200708/cmselect/cmworpen/246/246i.pdf
Ndejjo, R., Musinguzi, G., Yu, X., Buregyeya, E., Musoke, D., Wang, J. (2015). Occupational Health Hazards among Healthcare Workers in Kampala, Uganda. Journal of Environmental and Public Health. Retrieved from http://dx.doi.org/10.1155/2015/913741
Smith, A., Mc Namara, R., & Wellens, B. (2004). Combined effects of occupational health hazards. Centre for Occupational and Health Psychology. 1-193 (287). Retrieved from http://www.hse.gov.uk/research/rrpdf/rr287.pdf