OSH Matters

Growing interest in Occupational Safety and Health

RAISING AWARENESS TO PSYCHOLOGICAL HAZARDS IN THE WORKPLACE

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Physical hazards have been the focal point for research on occupational health and safety for years. However, only recently emphasis has been placed on psychological hazards. To begin, a psychological hazard is any hazard that affects the mental well-being or mental health of the worker by overwhelming individual coping mechanisms and impacting the worker’s ability to work in a healthy and safe manner. Psychological hazards in the workplace include violence/bullying, fatigue, technological change, substance abuse, and age related factors. This post is dedicated to raising awareness to psychological hazards in the workplace and implementing appropriate measures for controlling them.

FATIGUE IN THE WORKPLACE

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Image 1: Mental and physical exhaustion reduces a person’s ability to perform work safely and effectively. Source: Wellness Perth

Most often when you express to someone that you’re feeling fatigued, immediately their advice is, “Take a break” or “All you need is more rest.” Well, it’s much easier said than done. People need to realize that fatigue is more than just a feeling of drowsiness. It is a state of mental and/or physical exhaustion which reduces a person’s ability to perform work safely and effectively (Safe work Australia, 2013). When a person is fatigued, they are more likely to fall asleep on the job which can adversely affect one’s ability to concentrate, communicate effectively, recognise risks, and make decisions. This results in increased errors and reduced productivity in the workplace. For this reason, fatigue is considered a major psychological hazard. It is important, therefore, that companies first identify all the factors which could contribute to and increase the risk of fatigue in the workplace. Such factors include long working hours, performing repetitious work, inadequate rest, harsh environmental concerns, and non-related work factors such as poor quality of sleep, family needs, and social life. Once the risks are identified, employers should then take appropriate action to assess them accordingly. In order to assess these risks, companies should perform risk assessments to decide which hazards need to be addressed and in what order. After the risks are assessed, companies should implement appropriate measures to control fatigue in the workplace. Risks should be minimized as low as reasonably practicable.

The following measures can be implemented by employers for controlling fatigue in the workplace:

  • Employers should first perform a risk assessment to identify the existing or potential hazards.

 risk

Image 1: Five steps to assessing risks in the workplace. Source: osha tt

  •  Introduce job rotation and break schedules/rosters to allow for rest and enough recovery time between work shifts for travelling, meal breaks, and socializing.
  •  Companies may provide a comfort room for employees to relax.
  •  Allow employees to work remotely or have flexible working hours.
  • Encourage employees to voice their opinions by reporting any concerns anonymously that they may have in relation to work fatigue.
  • Provide counselling for fatigue management on a one-to-one basis to their employees.
  • Install ventilation and mechanical cooling devices in hot, confined work environments.
  • Ensure the workplace and surroundings are well lit, safe and secure. A better environment will mean increased productivity.

By implementing such measures, employees will be less fatigued and more productive.

VIOLENCE/BULLYING

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Image 2:  An employee being harassed, bullied, and intimidated at the workplace by colleagues.

Workplace violence is any act or threat of physical violence, harassment, intimidation, or other threatening disruptive behavior that occurs at the work site. It ranges from threats and verbal abuse to physical assaults. Violence in the workplace is a psychological hazard because it is caused by fear and anxiety of the aggressor. Apart from implementing stiffer penalties for those who are violent in the workplace, employers can find the root cause of the violence by tackling the issue individually and offering support to those who may be victims or aggressors. In addition, employers can implement panic buttons, video surveillance, alarm systems, and escorts to and from the workplace to help deal with or eradicate violence in the workplace.

Bullying involves repeated incidents or a pattern of behaviour that is intended to intimidate, offend, or humiliate a particular person or group of people. It is a form of aggressive behavior in which someone intentionally and repeatedly causes another person injury or discomfort (Fritz, 2016). The most common signs of bullying in the workplace include spreading malicious rumours, social exclusion and assigning unreasonable duties that are unfavorable to the employee (Oppermann, 2008).  It is therefore the duty of the employee to deal with the cases of bullying and the responsibility of the employee to report these instances. The employer can implement harsher penalties for bullies, foster improved communication skills and establish a policy of respect in the workplace in order to deal with bullying.

TECHNOLOGICAL CHANGE

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Image 3: The advancement in technology contributes to greater productivity in the workplace, unfortunately it can also lead to “TechnoStress.” Source: rappler

We use technology to try to change the world around us to make our lives easier. In other words, technological advances show people a more efficient way to get things done and these processes often yield beneficial results. However, despite the benefits, technology can be considered a psychological hazard, better known as ‘Technostress’ which is one’s inability to cope or deal with technology in a healthy manner. When we perform multiple tasks simultaneously, our brains become overloaded. As such, we are unable to think clearly which can make us forgetful. This in turn affects our sleeping patterns as the stimulation from the overload keeps the brain working overtime. A few effective ways for preventing technostress in the workplace include taking regular tech breaks by listening to music, spending time in nature to calm the brain, completing one task at a time, and slowing down your pace. By doing this, you can become fully engaged in what you’re doing and the task can be done with greater ease.

SUBSTANCE ABUSE

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Image 4: The abuse of harmful substances or illegal drugs can lead to Psychological Hazards at the workplace. 

Substance abuse before, during or after working hours can endanger the health and safety of employees as well as other co-workers. The abuse of these drugs whether legal or illegal can impair the proper functioning of someone psychologically. The inability for an employee to operate on a normal level increases the potential hazards that can be present at the workplace. The abuse of substances, both legal and illegal, can lead to psychological hazards. These include:

  • Alcohol – The abuse of beer for example can slow the reflexes of an employee if he/she is to respond or prevent a calamity from happening at the workplace.
  • Cannabis – The use of marijuana can impair a worker’s memory if he/she uses it before and/or during working hours. This memory impairment can cause the worker to forget how to use a machine, equipment, or perform a process properly. This can cause harm to the health and safety of the employee as well as others workers.
  • Hallucinogens – Phencyclidine (PCP) also known as Angel Dust, if ingested, injected, snorted or smoked by a worker before or during working hours can make him/her inattentive which can lead to fatal incidents or accidents in an industrial establishment.
  • Inhalants – From hydrocarbon inhalation, an employee working on an oil rig for example, can become dizzy which could result in the employee falling on or between a machine or equipment where he/she can be seriously injured.
  • Opiates – Employees under the influence of drugs such as Heroin for example, can contract Hepatitis B or C from injecting this drug into their body. The Hepatitis disease can spread to other employees by coming in contact with the infected person’s blood.
  • Stimulants – Cocaine, if used by employees, can cause over activity which can result in the improper use of machines and equipment which will endanger the health and safety of other workers.

Ways to prevent Substance Abuse  

  • Workers should be educated/counselled about the dangers of substance abuse.
  • Sanctions/penalties for persons abusing such substances on the premises
  • Periodic drug tests should be conducted.

AGE RELATED FACTORS

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Image 5: Both young and old employees at the workplace are at a higher risk of incurring injury upon themselves.

In the workforce, there are two primary categories of workers that require special attention when focusing on psychological hazards. These include  young individuals and elderly workers. These groups are especially sensitive in the workplace because they are at a higher risk of incurring injury upon themselves as well as onto other workers. So how can age become a psychological hazard?

Young Employees

In any organization, it is a blessing to have new, healthy, energetic and willing workers to join the company. However, there are also many issues that can arise due to a younger workforce. One major issue is lack of experience. Unlike older workers who may have been on the job for many years and know the “ropes”, these younger workers are now learning the various functions and with inexperience comes mistakes which can lead to major psychological issues such as depression and stress. Employers can therefore implement employee training and development programs which in turn will promote greater job satisfaction and performance. 

Elderly Employees

In most organizations, there are employees who have been present and loyal for years and with time, they are unaware that their increasing age has subjected them to various mental issues. This results in the inability to function and work as before. Firstly, their mental processes may decline which can result in slow decision making and the inability to understand directions, instructions, and demands of the company. Diseases also affect the ability of an elderly worker to display their best work in the organization and with age, many mental diseases become present. One such disease that is brought about by stress is “Sarcoidosis” which affects the nervous system including hearing loss, seizures, dementia or most commonly psychiatric disorders such as depression and dementia. Employers should therefore supervise employees to ensure that their work is carried out safely.

What measures have been put in place in Trinidad and Tobago to deal with psychological hazards?

The Occupational Health and Safety Act of Trinidad and Tobago (2004) as amended (2006) has outlined rules and regulations for the employer and employees to abide by. The act has made provisions for most hazards but failed to focus on the psychological hazards that plague the workplace. For this reason, further amendments to the act should include rules and regulations for psychological hazards in the workplace as it is just as important as other hazards. Furthermore, raising awareness to psychological hazards will improve health and safety issues as well as significantly reduce stress in the workplace. 

References

“Bullying at Work.” Bullying in the Workplace. Accessed October 01. 2016. http://www.hsa.ie/eng/Workplace_Health/Bullying_at_Work/

“Chapter 3: The Nature of Technology.” Chapter 3: The Nature of Technology. Accessed October 01, 2016. http://www.project2061.org/publications/sfaa/online/chap3.htm?txtRef=https://www.google.tt/.

“Fatigue Prevention in the Workplace.” Safe Work Victoria. 2008. Accessed October 01, 2016. https://www.worksafe.vic.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0008/9197/vwa_fatigue_handbook.pdf

Fritz, Sandy. Mosby’s Fundamentals of Therapeutic Massage. 6th ed. St. Louis, Missouri, 2016.

“Guide for Managing the Risk of Fatigue at Work.” Safe Work Australia. 2015. Accessed October 02, 2016. http://www.safeworkaustralia.gov.au/sites/SWA/about/Publications/Documents/825/Managing-the-risk-of-fatigue.pdf

“Hepatitis C FAQs for the Public.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2016. Accessed October 01, 2016. http://www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/hcv/cfaq.htm.

Oppermann, Steve. “Workplace Bullying: Psychological Violence?” Workplace Bullying Institute. Accessed October 02, 2008. http://www.workplacebullying.org/workplace-bullying-psychological-violence/

“OSH Answers Fact Sheets.” Government of Canada, Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety. 2016. Accessed October 03, 2016. https://www.ccohs.ca/oshanswers/psychosocial/mentalhealth_risk.html

“Psychological Hazards and Controls for Rehabilitation Professionals.” November 7, 2011. Accessed September 29, 2016. https://www.physiotherapyalberta.ca/course_materials/ohs_module_6_handout.pdf

Risk Assessment information: http://osha.gov.tt/Portals/0/Documents/a_guide_to_risk_assessment.pdf

“Workplace Violence.” United States Department of Labor. Accessed October 3, 2016. https://www.osha.gov/SLTC/workplaceviolence/

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5 thoughts on “RAISING AWARENESS TO PSYCHOLOGICAL HAZARDS IN THE WORKPLACE

  1. Pingback: OSH Hazards in Godzilla (2014) | OSH Matters

  2. Great Job Oshtitans!

    It is agreeable that for many years employers have overlooked psychological hazards and placed more emphasis on the more prominent hazards such as physical hazards. A contemporary human resource topic that links closely with psychological hazards is stress and burn out in the workplace. Burn out is a result of overwhelming stress. The major requirement of the employer with regard to occupational health and safety management is that of conducting risk assessment for psychological hazards. In reviewing the risk assessment template, there may be difficulty when filling in information based on psychological hazards. One may question if the current risk assessment template is suitable for the intangible psychological hazards. Therefore consideration of various factors should be considered when completing a risk assessment for psychological risks. For example, it is possible to determine the level at which smoke inhalation can become hazardous, whereas it may not be possible to determine the level at which heavy workloads might cause specific harm.

    In current approaches employers are now aiming to provide a comfortable environment for their employees to prevent or eliminate risks associated with psychological hazards. For example:

    Google

    • With their aim to reduce stress for employees, Google has provided stress management classes for employees such as Meditation 101, Search Inside Yourself and Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction.

    Uber

    • Uber has an unlimited vacation policy for employees with jobs that have a high stress rating. They offer these employees a benefit that if they work hard they can take time when needed. This relieves a lot of stress for employees as they won’t feel less restricted. This is an initiative to support employees work-life balance.

    I’d also like to comment on a mitigation strategy mentioned under the discussion of workplace violence. Escorting an employee to and from their workstation should be an organization last resort when dealing with employee conflict. This may seem as a mitigation strategy however it is not a method an employer should resort towards, as the underlying issue should be fully resolved between the two parties. There was mention of offering support to victims or aggressors individually, however in addition to individual support both parties should meet up in a private setting with the mediator to ensure that their issues are resolved or alleviated before returning to the work environment. When both employees go back to the workstations continued observation should be conducted to help prevent any issue from occurring again.

    Also to elaborate on young employees in the workplace, the major issue contributing to psychological hazards may not be lack of experience. It’s the responsibility of the employer to ensure the best fit of employees within an organization. Lack of experience should be identified during the recruitment and selection process through the incorporation of appropriate selection methods to assess the prospective employee. Therefore it is the responsibility of the employer to ensure that employees young or old have the capability to complete the job assigned to them. Inability of the employer to identify this issue can indeed result in psychological hazards. To help mitigate this issue, employers should ensure that the job specification is properly outlined and also implement assessment techniques that would help with the assessment of employees. In relation to young employees with no experience being hired, there should be a training/internship period that would follow employment. This would help the employee acquire the skillset for the job with less stress involved. One of the major issues contributing to psychological hazards is the lack of motivation that relates to stress. Millennials were born into the digital age therefore technology plays an integral part of their everyday life. Imagine having to search through a filing cabinet for a document that was misplaced, quite stressful isn’t it? Traditional methods of job duties may frustrate millennials, hence the need for technology. However, the elderly which may fall into the category of Generation x, may be resistant to change. They are now being forced into integrating technology into their work. This adds stress to the employee, as he/she may not be able to grasp the use as quickly as required.

    Overall, pressure at the workplace is sometimes unavoidable due to demands of the existing contemporary work environment. Employers therefore have to ensure that there are strategies in place to help reduce the risk of psychological hazards.

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  3. Congratulations Oshtitians on this very informative post. Indeed the psychological hazards are often rejected or attain little attention in the work environment. Compiling the various hazards together in this blog is greeted with open arms. It is hoped that this information can be promoted for the knowledge of both employees and employers.
    The two most prominent hazards that the struck curiosity of the cat, probably as they are least known by individuals, are fatigue and technostress. The prominent hazards of violence/bullying, substance abuse and age related factors receive the most amount of attention and publicity in the work place. Fatigue is a solemn threat especially in certain industries; aviation, medical and nuclear. Working persons in these environments make decisions that affect the lives of those entrusted to them. Having one’s ability reduced in concentration, decision making and still ‘forced’ to work could lead to undesired consequences. The approach recommended to address this matter is a step in the right direction. With this move toward safety, places of work can be a safer place to be.
    Technostress! Who says that one cannot learn new words every day? This hazard is a contemporary one. Few individuals are aware of such a psychological stress. The modern world prides those who are tech savvy and can multi task. Unaware of the consequences of the over use these skills; we continue to work full speed ahead. Time out is not just affiliated with Tiki or sports games, but also in our lives. Peace is a beauty that we need, silence; its spousal pathway.
    It is hoped that as the country and by extension the world, becomes more safety conscious, more organizations will adopted your aforementioned suggestions. May the prudence that you have for safety continue to develop and be shared among us.

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  4. I am in agreement with Oshtitians after reading this blog on “Rising Awareness to Psychological Hazards in the Workplace.” It was illustrious, the content and material was relatively informative and well calibrated. More so, there is not a great awareness to psychological hazards in the workplace. All the more, we as a country Trinidad and Tobago have not yet adapted to a healthier work-life balance which is a daily effort to a more productive employee. This leads to my take away from this blog and more.

    For me, fatigue in the workplace is by far a primary factor that opens the gate to all the other Psychological Hazards identified in your blog and it has a lot to do with the employee’s life style and commitments outside the stipulated working hours; and how to balance the two as there is a clear need for work-life balance in us all.

    The Balance states, “Work-life balance is a concept that supports the efforts of employees to split their time and energy between work and the other important aspects of their lives. Whereby, work-life balance is a daily effort to make time for family, friends, community participation, spirituality, personal growth, self-care and other personal activities, in addition to the demands of the workplace as this was duly noted in your blog.

    Though I may not have used the method of approach to assess the risk in the workplace the balance goes on to recommend that, Work-life balance is assisted by employers who institute policies, procedures, actions, and expectations that enable employees to easily pursue more balanced lives. These measures and more are quite effective and I say this because at my job, the employer leans towards approaching employee’s work-life balance via these aspects and more.

    Whereby, the pursuit of work-life balance reduces the stress employees’ experience. When they spend the majority of their days on work-related activities and feel as if they are neglecting the other important components of their lives, this result in stress and unhappiness. Work-life balance enables employees to feel as if they are paying attention to all the important aspects of their lives.”

    This is a more philosophical method that when measured can address the various approaches identified to your blogs insight on “Rising Awareness to Psychological Hazards in the Workplace,” and assessing the risk in the workplace. On another note, the X and Y generations were strongly criticized in their work performance and there are many profound studies that show how to deal with such issues. The younger employees’ don’t necessarily, lack experience but with the proper fit and training these employees can excel in the work place and likewise with the elderly employee, they possess the knowledge and experience because they have been employed and have grown to know the organization as a whole over time. Also, diseases are not effects of these employees inability to perform but rather the robustness of the job over time.

    Lastly the question being asked, “What measures have been put in place in Trinidad and Tobago to deal with psychological hazards?” This has not yet been noticeably answered and still leaves more questions to this blog.

    Nevertheless, it was an enjoyably and insightful read for me as these are issues at my workplace. The writer brought such thought provoking awareness that really may have never been addressed before and I do hope that this blog and more like itself give rise to these issues to be addressed.

    Reference

    The Balance
    https://www.thebalance.com/work-life-balance-1918292

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  5. 05751399

    The article attempts to make the reader aware of the presence of psychological hazards by describing a tool that can be used for identifying psychological hazards in the workplace and how to go about executing the necessary steps to perform such an analysis (Risk Assessment). To support the fact that psychological hazards do exist within the workplace the article also attempted to present some of these hazards, factors that fuel the threat posed by these hazards and also expresses measures to lessen their impact.

    One of the strong points of the article is that it successfully presented a methodological tool/ step by step process for identifying and minimizing the threats posed by any psychological hazards that may exist within a workplace. However, in each psychological hazards presented the article failed to expand on other possible scenarios that contributes to the hazards identified, which can further lead to identification of new hazards and the need for new solutions. For example, when the article presented the point about “Technostress” causing an employee to become mentally overloaded this hazard can also make this said individual lazy in other aspects of life such as home and family duties which can further transcend in his or her work-life. In this case, this new potential threat i.e. becoming lazy from overuse of technology will require new solutions to be sought.

    In addition, the article identified substance abuse as a potential cause of psychological stress. In my opinion, the article failed to mention that the decision to resort to drugs in the first place may have been due to the potential existence of elements currently in the workplace that maximize these stress levels of employees and employers. Having said this, this will bring about the need for new solutions to reduce stress in and out of the workplace. When the writers highlighted fatigue as a potential psychological hazard, however in my opinion I would of considered fatigue as a consequence of being under psychological threat rather than a cause.

    Another weakness of the article, although age is mentioned as a potential hazard it failed to elaborate on other potential scenarios that relates to a young individual entering a company. One such scenario is that a young individual entering a company and highly qualified may be over demanding on his/her work colleagues due to the fact that individual may lack the experience about the operations of the department therefore constantly demanding assistance from her/his colleagues. This over demanding nature developed overtime can impact negatively on experienced workers in the form of psychological stress. Added to this layer of stress, if the young qualified individual is positioned at a higher level than his/her counterparts who he/she is seeking knowledge from may add new levels of psychological stress on those individuals who is departing such knowledge and see themselves inferior to the more qualified young individual. This dilemma in itself may result in psychological stress.

    Apart from these weaknesses the identification of other potential hazards is possible via further critiquing this topic and examining other risk. One such potential hazard that the article failed to identify is the environmental conditions such as office lighting sufficient furniture that satisfies industrial ergonomics standard. These factors are also contributors to stress levels and must also be considered when performing risk assessment.

    Like

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