The vast majority of British businesses are well aware of health and safety risks in the workplace, and how to mitigate or avoid them all together. Trip and slip hazards, working at height and fire safety procedures are things that are now deeply ingrained in the average employer’s psyche – anything that will prevent physical injury to their staff. But what about psychological injury? As we’ve explored previously, work related stress is calculated to cost the UK economy £26 billion pounds each year. In this article, Rob Burgon, workplace safety manager at RoSPA, discusses why it is vital that managers start asking workers how they feel…
What are the risk factors?
According to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), psychosocial risk factors may lead to stress-related changes in the body such as increased muscle tension, which can make people more prone to musculoskeletal problems, as well as being triggers for psychological stress at work. High workloads, tight deadlines, and lack of control over work and methods are all potential risk factors, and may affect a worker’s psychological response to their work and workplace conditions. Therefore, in order to minimise the psychosocial risk factors, it is crucial we examine both the employee’s attitude and their working environment.
The right ATTITUDE
In our previous post about behavioural safety, we discussed the importance of considering and understanding how your staff feel about their job. This is vital, as a poor attitude towards their role (perhaps relating to issues such as pay, conditions or career opportunities) can negatively influence your employees’ ability to keep themselves and each other safe. A poor attitude can seriously undermine years of training and experience and therefore lead to accidents.
A good way to combat negative attitudes in the workplace is through behavioural safety training. This type of training is often aimed at those in the lower levels of the organisation, and it can be very effective at improving morale within the workplace. However, it can also have major benefits for senior managers and those at board levels, particularly as it is designed to provide practical understanding of how effective behaviour change can be achieved, as well as teaching managers to promote a positive health and safety culture throughout their organisation – helping them avoid the dreaded ‘safety plateau.’
A better working environment
Unlike physical injury, the psychological effects of a working environment are not obvious, and may be somewhat hard to spot, but by assessing the type of work being carried out by employees it may be possible to identify those at higher risk of being adversely affected. For example, you should consider if they carry out repetitive, monotonous tasks, or if they work in roles where the full extent of their skill set is not being utilised. These are both factors which could cause psychosocial problems.
While the nature of the job being undertaken can affect a worker’s psychological response to their work, similarly features of day-to-day working life other than processes can also have an impact on employees. For example, are shift patterns decided by someone other than the employee? Are they excluded from making decisions that affect them? Does the way that they are paid encourage working quickly or without breaks, such as piece rate? Do they have little chance during the day to interact with other employees?
The HSE recommends full consultation and involvement with the workforce before carrying out any changes to working practice, but some of the steps to reduce any issues can be fairly straightforward and simple:
- If possible, try to include some variation in workers’ days to reduce monotony
- Do not pile too much work on staff, but equally make sure they have enough to fill their days, and try to impose reasonable deadlines
- Keep open lines of communication with employees, ensure there is as simple a procedure as possible for the reporting of problems, and encourage teamwork over lone working.
Remember, even if the problems are not immediately obvious, by identifying any number of these factors employers may be able to spot which of their staff are at risk of, or potentially even already suffering from, issues with psychosocial risk factors. Once identified, the factors can be managed or eliminated to create a happier, healthier workforce and to mitigate potential future issues with stress or musculoskeletal disorders.
For an depth look at the causes of work stress, and the actions you can take to reduce it within your organisation, RoSPA have produced a free e-book focused on work related stress. To claim it, simply register to receive our free fortnightly newsletter Safety Matters – your free source of workplace safety news, views and offers!
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Thanks Rob. Well done.
Great info! You make it clear how important this is for employees to understand! We recently had to train our employees on how to use our new Fire Extinguishers, installed by Surrey Fire & Safety in London (http://surreyfire.co.uk/fire-extinguisher-installation). It was important for them to learn this, just in case!