Occupational Health Risks and Mental Health Connections

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Although occupational health risks often refer to on-site hazards that may affect physical safety, it's also important to recognize mental well-being as a considerable influence on workplace health. There are several stressors that can carry over from home life to the job, and they either increase existing worries or create new ones. Open lines of communication, along with therapeutic resources, are key for encouraging workers to discuss their concerns and effectively treat them.

Common On-Site Occupational Health Risks

For many people, if asked about an occupational risk definition, they would instantly refer to what's immediately obvious at the jobsite. Bacterial infections, which can spread through the air, water, food, or touch, are hazards for those who work in environments such as schools, day care centers, prisons, and health care facilities. Essentially, anywhere that puts you in close contact with people or where levels of exposure to potentially harmful microorganisms is a risk factor. Animal shelters and rescue work are also of concern, because of zoonotic diseases, which can pass between animals and humans.

Breathing in certain substances, even for the short term, can produce harmful effects. Anything from insects to baking ingredients can trigger asthma, in addition to the usual suspects such as pollen, mold, or chemical irritants. After long-term exposure to particular elements, possible perils include mesothelioma, interstitial lung diseases, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

Preventative measures are always vital at warehouse sites where workers use machinery and cutting tools, and where tasks typically involve working at heights. The dangers of falls, lacerations, punctures, equipment defects, and simple human error prevail.

Office tasks aren't without their risks either. Repetitive motion, stationary postures for long periods of time, and improperly aligned workspaces are among the ergonomic risk factors that plague desk workers.

Off-Site Stressors That Impact Health Risks at Work

Work takes up a good portion of our lives, which is why it has a much more profound effect than merely earning a paycheck. It defines our daily schedules and forms a part of who we are. It's not always easy or possible to prevent personal stressors from carrying over to work hours, so these aspects deserve equal attention during toolbox talks.

Relationship troubles, substance abuse, and worries about health, finances, and job security contribute to poor performance on the job. A hostile environment, which may feature harassment, disrespect, or feelings of nonrecognition or unworthiness also cause discontent. Sometimes health risks at work derive from the very facets of the job itself, particularly the traumatic situations that police, first responders, and emergency personnel deal with.

Workplace culture often emphasizes confidence, leadership, and control, making it less than motivating to discuss feelings and emotions. Whereas job hazard analysis is a regular routine to review physical precautions, managers must think beyond that. The less that people treat vulnerability as an unexpected safety topic for work, the easier it is to see mental welfare as a necessary component of staying healthy for everything they do.

The Fear of Change and the Uncontrollable

In addition to all of the above, there are situations within the workplace that exacerbate personal insecurities and increase feelings of helplessness at work. Ever-changing technology makes some people doubtful that they can keep up with advanced techniques and afraid of downsizing or losing their job. They may take on extra hours in the hope that that can secure their job, even if it means trying to adjust to tasks that they aren't completely knowledgeable about or trained in. The fear of failure is a driving force that ironically sometimes results in burnout.

There is also a prevailing unease about violence in the workplace. Even if office locations or warehouses have strong security methods set up, the unpredictability of it all creates a lot of emotional upheaval that employees may try to suppress. This, in turn, can decrease productivity and cause more errors or delays than usual, as staff deal with their private thoughts.

This brief “Wellbeing at Work” video summarizes a few things that everyone should keep in mind to maintain a healthy atmosphere and state of being:

Signs of Emotional Tension

If you haven't done so already, consider making a calendar of safety awareness topics that include the importance of sleep, nutritious snack options, and drinking responsibly. This acts as a great starting point for more in-depth conversations. Although the following list is not exhaustive, watch for these symptoms that may indicate an employee could be experiencing emotional concerns:

  • Anxiety: noticeable uncertainty, nervousness, or hesitation performing tasks
  • Depression: decreased motivation, visible sadness, even sudden lack of interest in communicating with colleagues or participating in group endeavors
  • Fatigue: changes in energy, lack of focus
  • Frequent absences
  • Drinking and/or drug use on the job
  • Leave of absence: check for lingering aftereffects or PTSD that may develop from an illness, injury, or traumatic experience

Ways to Create a Calm and Comfortable Work Environment

According to an Anxiety Disorders Association of America survey on stress and anxiety disorders, 50 percent of afflicted people reported that anxiety affects their professional performance. Let staff express emotional concerns in private assessments or questionnaires, and let them know about counseling services. Furthermore, work with employees to develop a schedule that's respectful of the time they may need to attend sessions or treatment programs.

With appealing outlets that allow people to decompress, you can help everyone focus and feel better. Keep the break room well stocked with healthy food and beverage options and limit vending machines that may contain sugary sodas and snacks. If you can't set up a space for fitness and yoga classes, then offer incentives for joining such, as well as for smoking cessation and weight loss programs, bicycle rentals, and other ways to maintain or reset calmness. It's a nice idea to coordinate volunteer work for local community causes, since the act of helping others is also an effective way to combat stress.

The Collective Effort of Occupational Health Risk Management

Understanding how common fears, thoughts, doubts, and an extensive range of emotions are to everyone is a big step toward developing a warmer and more welcoming work environment. Develop opportunities for staff to share these concerns and worries with each other, and to see how no one is really that different; we all have these experiences. Take on the occupational health risks that tug at everyone's psyches as well as their physical well-being and help your employees be the best they can be.

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Topics: Safety Tips, Safety Culture, Workplace Risk

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