Workplace Stress: A Collective Challenge

27 April 2016

The World Day for Safety and Health at Work is an annual international campaign to promote safe, healthy and decent work. It is held on 28 April and has been observed by the International Labour Organization (ILO) since 2003. 28 April has also long been associated with the world’s trade union movement’s commemoration of the victims of occupational accidents and diseases.

This year, “Workplace Stress: a collective challenge” is the theme of the campaign of the World Day for Safety and Health at Work. To mark the event Paul Tierney, Technical Director of Phoenix Safety, has joined us to answer your questions about work-related stress.

Workplace Stress - A collective challenge poster 28 April 2016
What is Stress?
Stress is the adverse reaction people have to excessive pressure. It isn’t a disease. But if stress is intense and goes on for some time, it can lead to mental and physical ill health (e.g. depression, nervous breakdown, heart disease).
Stress can be a good thing, can’t it?
We all need some level of stress in our lives but it must be manageable. Being under pressure often improves performance. It can be a good thing. But when demands and pressures become excessive, they lead to stress. And it’s clear from the recognised symptoms of stress that it’s actually bad for you.
How do I recognise stress in a particular person?
Stress Headache

Stress can cause frequent headaches

Many of the outward signs of stress in individuals should be noticeable to managers and colleagues. Look in particular for changes in a person’s mood or behaviour, such as deteriorating relationships with colleagues, irritability, indecisiveness, absenteeism or reduced performance.

Those suffering from stress may also smoke or drink alcohol more than usual or even turn to drugs. They might also complain about their health: for example they may get frequent headaches.

Under health and safety law, what must I do about workplace stress?

Where stress is caused or made worse by work, it could lead to ill health, you must assess the risk. A risk assessment for stress involves:

  • looking for pressures at work that could cause high and long-lasting levels of stress;
  • deciding who might be harmed by these; and
  • deciding whether you are doing enough to prevent that harm.

If necessary, you must then take reasonable steps to deal with those pressures. You must review the assessment whenever you think that it may no longer be valid. You should make sure that you involve your employees, their safety representatives where they have been appointed – at every stage of the assessment process.

What are the problems that can lead to stress?
  • Lack of communication and consultation
  • A culture of blame when things go wrong, denial of potential problems
  • An expectation that people will regularly work excessively long hours or take work home with them
What can management do?
  • Provide opportunities for staff to contribute ideas, especially in planning and organising their own jobs
  • Introduce clear business objectives, good communication, and close employee involvement, particularly during periods of change
  • Be honest with yourself, set a good example, and listen to and respect others
  • Be approachable – create an atmosphere where people feel it is OK to talk to you about any problems they are having
  • Avoid encouraging people to work excessively long hours
  • Prioritise tasks, cut out unnecessary work, try to give warning of urgent or important jobs
  • Make sure individuals are matched to jobs, provide training for those who need more, increase the scope of jobs for those who are over-trained
  • Change the way jobs are done by moving people between jobs, giving individuals more responsibility, increasing the scope of the job, increasing the variety of tasks, giving a group of workers greater responsibility for effective performance of the group
  • Make sure other workplace hazards, such as noise, harmful substances and the threat of violence, are properly controlled.

    Yoga to relieve workplace stress

    EazySAFE and Phoenix Safety are marking the day with a chill out and de-stress yoga session

What are the costs of Stress related illness and workplace accidents?

The costs of ill health impact at three levels:

  1. individuals
  2. enterprises
  3. society

Research would suggest that these costs could be in the order of €3.6 billion annually. In particular, the costs to the state in terms of major benefit payments, some of which are fully or partially related to accidents or illness, are in the order of €2 billion and increasing.

The implementation of a Healthy Workplace Initiative Strategy will reduce this ever increasing cost.

What can I the Employer do to foster a safer and healthier workplace for my staff?
Healthy Eating Policy

Promote healthy eating in your workplace

As part of your Safety Management System set up a Healthy Workplace Initiative Strategy for your Company.

This should cover the following areas:

  • Ensuring staff understand the causes of workplace stress through an awareness session
  • Having a workplace stress policy in place with support as necessary.
  • Having a workplace bullying policy in place with support as necessary
  • Having a workplace smoking policy in place with support as necessary to quit.
  • Support a healthy eating policy in your kitchen/canteen/cafeteria.
  • Support an active travel policy for staff who travel within the City [Walking, Cycling etc.].
  • Foster a positive mental attitude by developing a work/life balance.

Paul Tierney

Technical Director of Phoenix Safety Services Ltd.
+353 87 251 2492

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