It’s a quarter to five on a Friday and you’ve been on since nine this morning. Your site manager calls you over and says: “This work needs finished tonight and you can’t get away until it’s done.”

Your phone is buzzing in your pocket with friends making plans and your watch is itching on your arm. Are you going to make the last train or is it another expensive taxi home?

Everything starts to weigh on your shoulders pushing your boots down into the ground.

A lot of people will write off this sort of pressure as just another part of the job. Well, it’s not — although, to be fair, it’s a tricky distinction.

Some pressure at work is normal and, in a lot of cases, good. It keeps people focused and keeps them pulling towards a clearly defined goal.

However, when an employee becomes unable to cope with the demands being made of them, stress starts to kick in and that isn’t good for employee or employer.

Now, a lot has already been written about the health implication of stress so we won’t go into it in too much detail here. It’s enough to say that common stress-related illnesses include anxiety, depression, headaches and heart disease.

And when people become ill due to stress, there is a direct economic impact on businesses. Consider the following.

 

12.8 million

Working days lost to stress

£3.7 billion

Yearly cost to the economy

Negative

Impact on health and safety

 

The first two statistics — total days lost and total revenue lost — tend to get the most attention, while the third — the effect of stress on workplace safety — is hardly ever mentioned.

This may be because the link between stress and workplace safety is still inclusive. However, with more and more supportive studies being published, the link is growing stronger.

In an interview with Safety+Health magazine, medical director of the Stanford Center on Stress and Health, Dr David Speigel, said:

It’s very clear that a big proportion of safety problems are due to human error, and some of that is related to stress.

In other words, as people become stressed, they become more susceptible to errors and are more likely to compromise their safety.

Steven Sauter, coordinator for the NIOSH’s Work Organization Stress-Related Disorders Program agrees.

The data are weaker for injuries than they are for illnesses. But I would say the weight of the evidence points to a linkage between both stress and illness and workplace injury.

So, while you could wait for an iron-clad, conclusive link between stress and safety, we think it’s smarter to preempt the link and take steps to reduce stress in your workforce.

 

How Can You Identify Stress?

With some parts of health and safety, it’s relatively easy to identify problematic areas. Has a risk assessment been conducted? Is that person wearing suitable PPE? Has a sudden change made a site unsafe?

Stress, however, is significantly harder to pinpoint due to its subjective mental component.

Helpfully, the Center for the Promotion of Health in the New England Workplace published an excellent list of potential warning signs, including trouble concentrating, fatigue, low morale, anxiety or irritability, alcohol or drug use, overeating or loss of appetite and workplace incidents.

If you spot one or more of these warning signs in a staff member, it’s a good sign that they may be experiencing stress. That’s your cue to take action.

 

HSE Management Standards

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) recognises that stress poses a serious challenge to businesses. It costs millions of sick days, billions of pounds and potentially puts workers at risk.

In 2012, the HSE published Management Standards, an integrated approach to combat work-related stress.

The Standards represent “a set of conditions that, if present, reflect a high level of health, well-being and organisational performance.”

The approach covers the most common sources of stress at work, which are:

  • Demands: this includes issues such as workload, work patterns and the work environment.
  • Control: how much say the person has in the way they do their work.
  • Support: this includes the encouragement, sponsorship and resources provided by the organisation, line management and colleagues.
  • Relationships: this includes promoting positive working to avoid conflict and dealing with unacceptable behaviour.
  • Role: whether people understand their role within the organisation and whether the organisation ensures that they do not have conflicting roles.
  • Change: how organisational change (large or small) is managed and communicated in the organisation.

The Management Standards approach is explained in more detail in the document Working together to reduce stress at work and on the HSE’s website.

 

Improving Workplace Safety

Employers owe their staff a duty of care so there is little excuse to ignore workplace health and safety.

To improve your practical knowledge and understanding of health and safety, our IOSH Managing Safely courses in Glasgow and Edinburgh should be your first stop. This four-day course will give you the skills to manage all aspects of health and safety within an organisation. Check available dates here.