Cal/OSHA Working on Rules to Protect Outdoor Workers from Wildfire Smoke

wildfire

Cal/OSHA is developing regulations that would require employers of outdoor workers to provide respiratory equipment when air quality is significantly affected by wildfires.

Smoke from wildfires can travel hundreds of miles and while an area may not be in danger of the wildfire, the smoke can be thick and dangerous, reaching unhealthy levels. The danger is worst for people with underlying health conditions like heart disease, asthma or other respiratory issues.

Many employers want to hand out respirators to outside workers, but while there are no regulations or laws in place for how to protect your workers during smoky conditions, there are regulations governing the use of ventilators – and they are very specific.

The California Code or Regulations, Title 8, Section 5144 states requires that employers that distribute respirators to their employees must take certain steps, such as implementing a written respiratory protection program, requiring seal-testing before every use and conducting medical evaluations of all workers who will wear a respirator.

Cal/OSHA decided to start work on the new regulations after worker groups filed a petition asking the agency to step in and protect people working outside from unsafe air quality caused by wildfires.

What to expect

The regs are still in draft form and are unlikely to be completed this summer for the upcoming fire season. But here is what you can expect:

The draft of the regulations would require that employers take action when the Air Quality Index (AQI) for particulate matter 2.5 is more than 150, which is considered in the “unhealthy” range.

The protections would also be triggered when a government agency issues a wildfire smoke advisory or there when there is a “realistic possibility” that workers would be exposed to wildfire smoke.

All California employers with “a worker who is outdoors for more than an hour cumulative over the course of their shift” would be required to comply with these regulations:

  • Checking AQI forecasts when employees may reasonably be expected to be exposed to an AQI or more than 150.
  • Establishing a system of communication with employees to inform them about the AQI, changes in conditions that can lead to bad air quality, and protective measures.
  • Training their workers in the steps they would have to take if the AQI breaches 150.
  • First-line protections that employers could implement include:
    • Engineering controls, such as providing enclosed structures or vehicles with effective filtration where employees can continue working.
    • Administrative controls like:
      • Relocating workers,
      • Changing work schedules,
      • Reducing work intensity, or
      • Giving them additional rest periods.
  • If none of the above are feasible, the rule provides for a voluntary respirator (without fit-testing and medical examinations) use when the AQI is between 150 and 300.
  • If the AQI is above 300, fit-testing and a medical examination prior to use would be mandatory.

The new regulations by Cal/OSHA are pending with the Cal/OSHA Standards Board, which is expected to vote on them in July, but it’s unclear how quickly they would be implemented.

For now, if you do have outside employees who are confronted with working in smoky conditions, you should start stockpiling a two-week supply of N95 masks for all of your workers.

Business Growth Can Lead to Increased Risk

Business Growth

As the economy continues expanding, companies need to be careful about properly managing their risk, according to a report by Advisen Inc., an insurance research and data firm.

Increased activity typically means proportionally additional losses. For example, more trucks driving more miles will inevitably result in more accidents. However, there are other kinds of risk that can actually increase more than the jump in business activity. We look at three such areas here.

Workplace safety

Workplace injuries can increase as firms hire workers that have less experience. Typically, when employers expand their workforce to meet the growing demand for their products and services, the number of workers’ compensation claims tended to rise disproportionately.

New employees with less experience typically are more likely to sustain a workplace injury. At the same time, experienced staff may look for new job opportunities as compensation begins to take priority over job security.

What you can do: One option is to hire a temporary-staffing firm to fill positions. In these relationships, the client company is not responsible for covering temporary workers.

But you should be aware that OSHA requires what is known as the “dual employer doctrine”, under which temps are considered employees of both the agency and the company using them. And you are also not off the hook for providing them with a safe work environment and safety training specific to their job.

And remember: Check to make sure the temp agency has workers’ comp insurance.

Litigation increases

The risk of being sued rises as employees make mistakes due to pressure on existing staff to increase production, and again when less experienced workers are added to the payroll.

Your workers may be putting in extra hours. But fatigued workers make mistakes. For example, some of the worst industrial disasters have been in part the result of tired workers. Bhopal, Chernobyl and the Exxon Valdez oil spill all involved decisions made late at night or extremely early in the morning by people working long hours.

In addition, inexperienced employees are more like contribute to incidents where outsiders are hurt.

What you can do: Conduct thorough interviews, check references and carry out background investigations when appropriate to avoid hiring people with known problems. You are responsible for the actions of your employees.

Also, make sure that you are not overworking your staff. Provide proper breaks so they can rest, especially in jobs that require attention and strength.

Labor law violations

Trends in litigation and regulation make it more likely that companies will be charged with labor law violations. Employees are braver now about filing complaints, thinking they have a good chance of landing a new job if they are fired.

In addition, the federal and many state governments have cracked down on wage and hour law violations.

As well, some companies may try to add to their worker pool by using more independent contractors, in order to avoid hiring new workers. But the federal government has mounted a serious crackdown on companies that inappropriately classify employees as independent contractors.

What you can do: Pay close attention to your payment systems and audit your systems to make sure you comply with wage and hour laws as well as meal and rest break laws.

The takeaway

The lesson is to increase your vigilance in managing your risk and review your existing risk management strategies for gaps due to business growth.

You can take the following steps to reduce your chances of increased claims:

  • Maintain high standards when hiring new employees, such as conducting thorough interviews, checking references and, where appropriate, investigating backgrounds;
  • Properly train and supervise new employees during a growth phase;
  • Consider your current policies on temporary workers, and weigh the benefits of a flexible workforce against liability issues that temporary workers pose;
  • Revisit your policies about independent contractors, especially in light of the U.S. Department of Labor’s efforts to ferret out misclassification;
  • Pay attention to overtime rules to ensure compliance with the law; and
  • Keep shareholders informed as much as possible about any mergers or acquisitions, including terms of the transaction.

A New Approach to Preventing Workplace Injuries

Metal Roof Roll Forming Machine

While overall workplace injuries have been falling in the last decade, the numbers of deadly and catastrophic injuries are actually on the rise.

A new report recommends that employers focus their injury prevention efforts on reviewing accidents that could have resulted in serious injury or death, as well as on near misses, where a potentially serious accident was narrowly avoided.

The “Serious Injury and Fatality Prevention: Perspectives and Practices” report, by the Campbell Institute, recommends that employers focus on their internal processes that could lead to serious injuries and fatalities, rather than on human error itself.

They should focus on identifying and fixing holes in their safety management system, examine their workplace culture, and change or modify work processes so as to eliminate the chances of human error affecting safety.

The report recommends that organizations don’t put the blame on the injured worker, but instead take a look at internal factors that contributed to an accident. To identify events or near events that could have led to serious injury or death, the prevention model in the report recommends focusing on and studying:

  • Precursors to accidents
  • Near misses
  • All recordable injuries

By identifying potential precursors to such events and educating employees about those precursors, companies can focus on eliminating the potential for accidents to occur in the first place.

One key component of this method is to identify which smaller accidents or near misses had the most potential to inflict serious injury or death.

Recommendations

Establish a system for reporting near misses. Consider:

  • Addressing issues such as workers being afraid of the consequences of reporting a near miss. Try to instill trust among your workers that they won’t be punished for a near miss, and that reporting them can help prevent future serious injuries.
  • Define what constitutes a near miss.
  • Include near-miss training during new employee orientations.
  • Get buy-in from management and supervisors to foster a culture of reporting near misses.
  • Make reporting simple and straightforward.
  • Make sure that your investigation includes a precise log of what led up to the near miss, as well as the root cause.
  • Take corrective action after conducting the investigation.

When rolling out the plan, hold a safety meeting explaining to employees why the company is focusing on the smaller incidents and near misses, and how a minor incident can turn major. Explain the importance of looking at potential rather than actual outcomes for minor incidents.

Try to be innovative in how you tackle workplace safety. For example, an article in Risk and Insurance magazine looked at a number of large employers that have worked with the criminology departments of nearby colleges to analyze injuries and near misses, in order to help identify what they could have done to prevent them.
The magazine’s report found that employers that used this method saw significant reductions in the number of workplace injuries they experienced.

Protect Outdoor Workers Against the Elements of Winter

If you have outdoor workers or staff that will have to venture out into the elements during an especially cold winter, you need to make sure you are taking the correct precautions to keep them safe.

If the conditions are extremely harsh, your workers are at heightened danger of injury, or worse. But even if you have employees who are outside for short periods, they can also suffer injuries if they are not prepared.

The many dangers of winter

Winter can bring with a number of dangers to your outdoor workers:

  • Cold or frigid temperatures
  • High winds
  • Damp air
  • Slippery surfaces
  • Contact with water
  • Frostbite
  • Hypothermia
  • Risk of strains, slips and falls
  • Dehydration
  • Decreased performance

OSHA has the following recommendations for protecting your workers:

Check the forecast – A supervisor should check the forecast for the next day before the end of the shift the day prior, to alert workers about any precautions they should take.

Appropriate clothing – Workers should have proper clothing suited for working in cold-weather conditions. Clothing from thermal underwear to gloves and jackets are the first line of defense against cold weather. Consider these tips for your employees:

  • Wear three layers of clothing. Start with insulating underwear – which traps perspiration – a middle layer that protects the body from precipitation, and an outer layer that allows ventilation and prevents overheating.
  • Cotton is not always a good choice. Wool, silk and some synthetic fabrics are better at keeping skin dry even when it’s raining or the worker is sweating.
  • Wear loose clothing. Tight clothing can trap moisture and lower body temperature.
  • Protect your extremities. That means head, hands and feet. Wear a warm cap or hat, insulating gloves and two pairs of socks and insulated shoes.
  • Carry an extra set of clothing in case something happens and a worker has to change.

Train workers – They should be trained on how to prevent and recognize cold-stress illnesses and injuries, and how to apply first aid treatment. Workers should be trained on the appropriate engineering controls, personal protective equipment and work practices to reduce the risk of cold stress.

Workers should be aware of their body signals – Teach your employees about the symptoms of frostbite, hypothermia and dehydration and report any symptoms they are experiencing to supervisors, who should know how to summon help and protect the worker.

The symptoms of hypothermia are:

Mild symptoms:

  • The worker may begin to shiver and stomp their feet in order to generate heat.

Moderate to severe symptoms:

  • As the body temperature continues to fall, symptoms will worsen and shivering will stop.
  • The worker may lose coordination and fumble with items in the hand, and become confused and disoriented.
  • They may be unable to walk or stand.
  • Dilated pupils.
  • Slowing pulse and breathing.
  • Loss of consciousness can occur.
The symptoms of frostbite are:
  • Reddened skin develops gray/white patches.
  • Numbness in the affected body part.
  • The affected part feels firm or hard.
  • Blisters may occur in the affected part, in severe cases.

Eat healthy, stay hydrated – Employers should stress the importance of a healthy diet to help workers power through harsh weather. They should be told to regularly drink warm water or warm sweetened fluids throughout the day.

Ask that they always eat breakfast before working outside, to give the body the fuel it needs. Also ask them to avoid excessive drinking the night before work.

OSHA Stays Serious About Temp Worker Safety

While the Trump administration has eased off a number of regulations and enforcement actions during the past two years, Fed-OSHA continues focusing on the safety of temporary workers as much as it did under the Obama presidency.

This puts the onus not only on the agencies that provide the temp workers, but also on the companies that contract with them for the workers.

As evidence of its continued focus on temp workers, OSHA recently released guidance on lockout/tagout training requirements for temporary workers. This was the third guidance document released in 2018 and the 10th in recent years that was specific to temp workers.

One reason OSHA is so keen on continuing to police employers that use temporary workers, as well as the staffing agencies that supply them, is that temp workers are often given some of the worst jobs and possibly fall through the safety training cracks.

OSHA launched the Temporary Worker Initiative in 2013. It generally considers the staffing agency and host employer to be joint employers for the sake of providing workers a safe workplace that meets all of OSHA’s requirements, according to a memorandum by the agency’s office in 2014 to its field officers.

That same memo included the agency’s plans to publish more enforcement and compliance guidance, which it has released steadily since then.

Some of the topics of the temp worker guidance OSHA has released since the 2014 memorandum include:

  • Injury and illness record-keeping requirements
  • Noise exposure and hearing conservation
  • Personal protective equipment
  • Whistleblower protection rights
  • Safety and health training
  • Hazard communication
  • Bloodborne pathogens
  • Powered industrial truck training
  • Respiratory protection
  • Lockout/tagout

Joint responsibility

OSHA started the initiative due to concerns that some employers were using temporary workers as a way to avoid meeting obligations to comply with OSHA regulations and worker protection laws, and because temporary workers are more vulnerable to workplace safety and health hazards and retaliation than workers in traditional employment relationships.

With both the temp agency and the host employer responsible for workplace safety, there has to be a level of trust between the two. Temp agencies should come and do some type of assessment to ensure the employer meets OSHA standards, and the host employer has to provide a safe workplace.

Both host employers and staffing agencies have roles in complying with workplace health and safety requirements, and they share responsibility for ensuring worker safety and health.

A key concept is that each employer should consider the hazards it is in a position to prevent and correct, and in a position to comply with OSHA standards. For example: staffing agencies might provide general safety and health training, and host employers provide specific training tailored to the particular workplace equipment/hazards.

Successful joint employer relationship traits

  • The key is communication between the temp agency and the host to ensure that the necessary protections are provided.
  • Staffing agencies have a duty to inquire into the conditions of their workers’ assigned workplaces. They must ensure that they are sending workers to a safe workplace.
  • Ignorance of hazards is not an excuse.
  • Staffing agencies need not become experts on specific workplace hazards, but they should determine what conditions exist at the host employer, what hazards may be encountered, and how best to ensure protection for the temporary workers.
  • The staffing agency has the duty to inquire and verify that the host has fulfilled its responsibilities for a safe workplace.
  • And, just as important, host employers must treat temporary workers like any other workers in terms of training and safety and health protections.

For a look at all 10 of the guidance documents OSHA has issued in the last few years, visit the agency’s temp worker page: www.osha.gov/temp_workers/

Safety Risks Soar as Job Market Tightens

One by-product of a strong economy is more employment, but the increased activity usually results in more workplace injuries.

That’s because there are more inexperienced people on worksites and when a company is busy and there is more activity, the chances of an incident occurring also increase. This is especially the case in manual labor environments from production facilities, warehousing and logistics to construction and other trades.

The September USG + U.S. Chamber of Commerce Commercial Construction Index found that 80% of contractors said that the skilled labor shortage is affecting jobsite safety and it’s the number one factor increasing safety risk on the jobsite.

As business activity grows and the job market tightens, many companies are forced to hire more inexperienced workers who are not skilled at understanding all safety hazards.

Experienced personnel have the know-how to identify workplace hazards and understand the safety protocols for all aspects of their work. While training can help new hires, nothing beats experience.

Additionally, with many businesses working hard to fulfill orders, workplaces are busier, which can cause some workers to cut corners or take risks. Amidst all that hustle and bustle and people moving quickly, the speed and activity can also contribute to accidents in the workplace.

Also, aggressive scheduling may cause employers to use workers with less experience or training, and can push employees to work longer hours, which can lead to shortcuts and compromised processes. If employees are working overtime, they may also be tired and fatigued, which can contribute to poor judgment and workplace incidents.

One other issue that’s affecting workplace safety and is related to the tight job market is that employers are often having to settle for workers they may not normally hire in other times. As you know, the scourge of opioid addiction has been rampant and unfortunately if someone who has an addiction is hired, they may be a serious liability for the employer.

Not only that, but more states are legalizing recreational marijuana and nearly 40 states have medical marijuana laws on the books. In many cases, people can easily get their hands on a medical marijuana card without an affliction that would require a prescription.

Here’s what’s concerning construction employers on the worker addiction front, according to the USG + U.S. Chamber of Commerce Commercial Construction Index:

  • 39% were concerned about the safety impacts of opioids.
  • 27% were concerned about the safety impacts of alcohol.
  • 22% were concerned about the safety impacts of cannabis.

The report showed that while nearly two-thirds of contractors have strategies in place to reduce the safety risks presented by alcohol (62%) and marijuana (61%), only half have strategies to address their top substance of concern: opioids, which is a growing issue.

What you can do

In this environment of labor shortages and high competition for workers, employers should focus on:

  • Creating a culture of safety.
  • Improving the safety climate in the worksite.
  • Improving the firm’s safety culture.
  • Providing more leadership training for supervisors.
  • Tracking near misses and injuries, and identifying the factors that led to the near miss or accident.
  • Ensuring accountability at all levels.
  • Demonstrating management’s commitment to safety.
  • Empowering and involving employees in the safety process.

Tackling substance abuse safety risks

The top strategies employers are using to reduce safety risks caused by substance abuse are:

  • Testing
  • Prescreening before hiring
  • Education
  • Communication oversight by supervisors
  • Zero tolerance policies
  • Counseling
  • Access to rehab.

The Health of Your Drivers May Be Hurting Your Business

Semi Truck Preparing to Drive

Most goods in the U.S. are delivered by truck. Trucking companies, businesses that deliver their own product and their customers rely on well-functioning vehicles and drivers for the success of their operations.

Too often, though, driving a truck is not conducive to good health. That can spell trouble for the drivers and for the profitability of their employers.

There are a number of factors about the truck-driving occupation that contribute to poor physical health, including:

  • Drivers are hired to sit all day behind the wheel, with limited opportunities for exercise.
  • They eat at truck stops and other restaurants where they can get meals quickly, contributing to poor diets.
  • Their work schedules are not consistent, interfering with sleep patterns.
  • The job is stressful. They have to contend with the annoyances and hazards of the road all day long, including traffic delays, dangerous drivers, and poor weather. On top of that, they are under pressure to reach their destinations on time. This gives them incentives to skip on sleep and ingest stimulants to help them stay awake.

Not surprisingly, studies have found that:

  • The obesity rate for truck drivers is double that of the general population.
  • Their smoking rate is almost triple that of the general population.
  • 88% of truck drivers report having hypertension, smoking or obesity, and 9% reported having all three, quadruple the general population’s rate.
  • Truck drivers’ life expectancy is 16 years less than the national average.
  • Unhealthy drivers do not perform their jobs as well as healthy ones do.
  • Among private sector employees, truck drivers have the highest number of illnesses and injuries that cause them to miss work.

A 2017 study found that drivers with three or more serious health conditions like the ones mentioned above are two to four times more likely to have an accident than are those with only one.

One common affliction for many drivers is sleep apnea. Drivers who have untreated sleep apnea are five times more likely to have a preventable accident than are those who treat it.

What you can do

What can you as an employer do to maintain a healthy driving force? Plenty.

  • During the pre-employment screening process, evaluate candidates’ fitness levels through physical examinations and a review of their driving histories.
  • Review employer safety policies and driver wellness and fitness requirements during new employee orientation.
  • Implement injury prevention programs.
  • Offer free or discounted memberships at gyms with locations around the country.
  • Encourage drivers to take quick exercise breaks during trips.
  • Encourage healthy eating both at home and on the road.
  • Monitor drivers’ performance through data provided by telematics devices installed in trucks, review of accident reports, and in-person observation of drivers.

The takeaway

If a truck driver suffers a heart attack or dozes off while hauling a load weighing tens of thousands of pounds, the results can be catastrophic. In addition to the lives lost or forever changed, the cost to the employer could be millions of dollars in jury awards.

Making driver wellness a priority is the right thing to do, but it also makes business sense for employers.

Marijuana Laws Require New Workplace Policies

Marijuana Medical Fast Shipping Express Delivery OnLine

As states continue to liberalize marijuana use, employers are left in a bind in terms of enforcing no-drug policies, respecting their employees’ right to privacy and keeping a safe workplace.

While a majority of states have medical marijuana laws on their books, only a handful of states require employers to accommodate (to a degree) staff who use medical marijuana. And many states, including California, have established case law stating that employers do not have to accommodate someone who has a medical marijuana prescription.

Complicating matters for employers, more states are legalizing recreational marijuana.

Since employers have to balance their legal obligations to their employees, they also have to be able to ensure they have a safe workplace that is free of drugs. Here’s a guide to the main issues facing employers:

ADA compliance

The Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits employers from discriminating against employees on the basis of a disability, and the law requires employers to provide a reasonable accommodation to them if needed. The word “reasonable” is there to ensure that the accommodation does not impose any undue hardship on the employer.

Often, medical marijuana is prescribed to people with disabilities who are considered protected individuals under the ADA. In many cases, the use of marijuana can be vital in allowing a disabled worker to do their job and also perform major life activities.

While the ADA bars discrimination against individuals with disabilities for employment purposes, courts in many states have ruled that medical marijuana use is not a reasonable accommodation.

But, in 2008, the California Supreme Court ruled that employers have a right to drug-test and fire patients who test positive for marijuana, regardless of their medical use.

It based its decision on the fact that because the state’s Fair Employment and Housing Act does not require employers to accommodate illegal use, an employer can lawfully terminate an employee who uses medical marijuana.

More recently, in 2012, the Ninth Circuit similarly held that the ADA does not offer job protection for medical marijuana users because marijuana is an illegal substance under federal law.

That said, as medical marijuana becomes more accepted, companies may want to consider revising their policies to include accommodations for use.

One way to do this is to create policies that bar marijuana use in the workplace, particularly smoking or vaping, but be more forgiving with use outside of work hours. If you also drug-test, you’ll need to make exceptions as employees can show positive for drug use at work even though they may have used marijuana the day before at home.

Your policies should take into account that you have a legitimate interest in ensuring that any medications the employee takes are used in a responsible manner and will not affect job performance. Your company policy could state that a prescription for medical marijuana does not entitle an employee:

  • To be impaired at work.
  • To compromise his or her safety, or the safety of others.
  • To smoke in the workplace.
  • To unexcused absences or late arrivals.
Recreational-use states

If you have a business in one of the handful of states that has legalized recreational use of marijuana, you should consider revising your company’s drug policies.

While you cannot legally bar employees from using cannabis outside the workplace, you can regulate them using it on the job or showing up intoxicated at work.

One good solution is to model your recreational marijuana policy after your current policies on alcohol.

To cover your operation, you should probably prohibit employees from smoking marijuana at the office or to come to the workplace under the influence of any psychoactive substance. The policy should outline the specific consequences for breaking the rule.

Some employers may consider prohibiting marijuana use in a recreational-use state and continue drug-testing of workers. But this approach could run into legal challenges and would be difficult to enforce if the employees are not using on the job.

The exception should be for workers that operate heavy machinery, or work in construction, transportation or other dangerous occupations. In these jobs, working under the influence of marijuana should be strictly prohibited, just as on-the-job alcohol use is. Companies can also alter drug-screening guidelines to exclude cannabis during routine drug tests.

Since the effects of marijuana can last many hours, you will also specifically need to spell out the rules for lunch breaks. Employees should be able to return from their breaks and be ready to start work again without being under the influence.

The takeaway

Overall, while it seems daunting, these issues will get ironed out over time. For now, you should try to set policies that will ensure that you can keep a safe workplace, while respecting employee privacy.

Over time, the policies that will be recommended for employers are likely to be similar to those for alcohol use and intoxication in the workplace.

Do You Have an Emergency Action Plan?

Evacuation plan macro

How would you escape from your workplace in an emergency? Do you know where all the exits are in case your first choice is too crowded? Are you sure the doors will be unlocked and the exit access, such as a hallway, will not be blocked during a fire, explosion or other crisis?

Knowing the answers to these questions could keep you safe during an emergency. And the answers should be readily available to all of your staff in your organization’s emergency action plan (EAP).

Almost every business is required under Occupational Safety and Health Administration standards to have an EAP. The purpose these plans is to facilitate and organize employer and employee actions during workplace emergencies.

Well-developed emergency plans and proper employee training (that helps workers understand their roles and responsibilities when executing the plan) will result in fewer and less severe employee injuries and less structural damage to the facility during emergencies.

A poorly prepared plan likely will lead to a disorganized evacuation or emergency response, resulting in confusion, injury and property damage.

Putting together a comprehensive EAP that deals with issues specific to your worksite is not difficult. It involves taking what you learn from conducting a workplace evaluation and describing how employees will respond to different types of emergencies, taking into account your worksite layout, structural features and emergency systems.

If you have 10 or fewer employees, you may communicate your plan orally. For firms with more than 10 employees, the plan must be written, kept in the workplace and available for employee review.

Although employers are required to have an EAP only when the applicable OSHA standard requires it, OSHA strongly recommends that all employers have an EAP.

Important elements

A few of the important elements of an EAP include:

  • Procedures for reporting fires and other emergencies.
  • Procedures for emergency evacuation, including the type of evacuation and exit route assignments.
  • Procedures for employees who stay behind to continue critical plant operations.
  • Procedures to account for all employees after evacuation.
  • Names or titles of employees to contact for detailed plan information.
  • Alarm system to alert workers.

In addition, designate and train employees to assist in a safe and orderly evacuation of other employees.

Review the EAP with each employee covered when:

  • The plan is developed or an employee is assigned to a new job,
  • Employees’ responsibilities under the plan change, or
  • You change the EAP.

Reducing Workplace Stress Is Vital for Safety, Retention, Production

Young secretary overwhelmed by work

During our economic recovery one element that has been persistent is that employers are trying to get more out of their workers than ever before.

And while most managers and owners try to ensure that their workers are provided a safe workplace and put a premium on reducing the chances of accidents, one often overlooked area is employee stress.

Heaping too much stress or too many responsibilities on a single employee can greatly increase their chances of not only burnout, but also making costly mistakes. A worse-case scenario is that if they are engaged in more labor-intensive occupations, too much stress can lead to accidents.

Think your employees aren’t stressed? A recent study by Mental Health America, “Mind the Workplace,” found that:

  • 81% of employees think that job stress affects their relationships with family and friends, at least sometimes.
  • 63% think that their workplace is unhelpful or hostile such that they want to work alone.
  • 66% don’t trust their co-workers or team to support their work activities.
  • 17% believe that their company appropriately deals with employees who don’t do their job.

There are a number of consequences for an overly stressful work environment:

  • Drug and alcohol abuse
  • Other medical issues
  • Depression
  • Worsened productivity
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Making mistakes
  • Causing accidents
  • Absenteeism and presenteeism.

What you can do

All of the above can have a detrimental effect on your workplace and worker health, as stress can lead to a myriad of health issues.

Employers have to wrestle with a fine balancing act of requiring employees to meet quotas and complete all of their tasks, and pushing them too hard. Here are a few tips to help reduce stress among your workforce:

  • Recognize your workers for a job well done.
  • Be supportive of workers experiencing hard times, like paid time off and assistance with their workload.
  • Make sure that management treats everyone fairly and does not show favoritism.
  • Set realistic, clear goals and expectations of your staff.
  • Management should lead by example, meaning that they should display the same work ethic that they expect of their staff.
  • Promote a safe work environment and have supervisors and management reinforce your commitment to safety.
  • Hold everyone accountable for their work.
  • Encourage mindfulness in your team.
  • Offer flexible work schedules.
  • Encourage your employees to get up and move regularly.
  • Provide an employee assistance plan as part of your benefits package.