Most of us spend the major part of our lives either away at work or in our homes. We like to think we’re safe in those familiar environments and we seldom spare a thought for anything within them that could affect our health and wellbeing.
When we hear the words ‘health and safety’, the usual visions that spring to mind are people falling off ladders, repetitive strain injuries, collapsing scaffolding and the like. We’re less likely to think about stress and the potential damage from unhealthy lifestyles or sleep disorders.
More than just PPE
It’s pretty easy to see if the mandatory hard hat, protective eyewear or safety gloves are being worn on the work site, but it’s not so easy to ascertain someone’s state of mind. How can we tell if Shane is worried about being laid off, or if Talia is being hassled by a senior with unreasonable work demands?
Learn to look for the warning signs of stress, both in yourself and in others:
Anxiety or irritability
Alcohol or drug use
Overeating or loss of appetite
Your stress could arise from a single event; say, for example, increased demands for overtime, or from a myriad of origins. It’s likely not only to affect you but the others around you as well.
Things to look out for
Warning signs can show themselves in four different ways:
Physical: such as headaches, high blood pressure and insomnia
Psychosocial: such as defensiveness, mood swings or depression
Cognitive: such as decreased attention, forgetfulness, or lowered problem-solving ability
Behavioural: such as increased use of alcohol or drugs, withdrawal or isolation from others, or poor job performance
Even if your troubles stem from home, your safety at work could be put at risk. Stress can lead to accidents or injuries directly by not giving you the control needed to stop any danger to your physical well-being.
At work, major stressors are most likely to be:
Fear of job redundancy,
Layoffs due to an uncertain economy,
Increased demands for overtime due to staff cutbacks
“We explored job demands, or the amount of work, time pressure and concentration demands of a job, and job control, or the amount of discretion one has over making decisions at work, as joint predictors of death,” said Erik Gonzalez-Mulé, assistant professor of organisational behavior and human resources at the Kelley School and the paper’s lead author.
“These findings suggest that stressful jobs have clear negative consequences for employee health when paired with low freedom in decision-making, while stressful jobs can actually be beneficial to employee health if also paired with freedom in decision-making.”
What you can do
We can’t always change the job, and some jobs are high-stress in the way that other jobs have higher physical risks. Looking at the Kelley School study it seems fair to suggest that we can apply the same process to stress reduction that we would when eliminating or minimising other health and safety risks.
Under the model Work Health and Safety (WHS) Act, the best control measure involves eliminating the risk—that is removing the risk from the workplace. If that is not possible you must minimise risks, so far as is reasonably practicable.
Take control of your risks
Below is a hierarchy of risk control, ranking from the highest level of protection and reliability to the lowest. The ideal is to eliminate the risk, but this is not always possible.
Allowing workers greater autonomy may be seen by some as an indulgence which conveys few benefits, but if, as the study suggests, this is a practical way to reduce worker stress, then we should see it in the same way we see other risk controls, with stress as the hazard and the reorganisation of workflow and decision making as the administrative actions that reduce exposure.
Doug Wright is a transformed survivor of a head-on near-death vehicle collision. Passionate about helping people overcome their innermost fears, especially when recovering from trauma, Doug has survived to share his courageous story … his motto is “never give up”. Away from his everyday activities, Doug invests his spare time playing his electric guitar, knocking out an eclectic mix of Eagles hits and fishing for coral trout in Airlie Beach, Northern Queensland.
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