Workplace anxiety and similar health concerns like stress and depression are unfortunately becoming more commonplace in the workplace.
It’s also important to note that these feelings of anxiety don’t just occur in the workplace but can be experienced outside of working hours. Worries about performance, workplace relationships, burnout, pending deadlines, and job security during difficult times, all can add a significant mental load. That is before considering the mental load caused by considering health and safety concerns at work.
Top 5 workplace health and safety concerns
- Slips, trips, and falls. Accidents caused due to wet or uneven surfaces, cluttered work areas, inadequate lighting, improper use or storage of equipment. Or a lack of proper signage. All these can be avoided by proper training and good housekeeping.
- Hazardous substances. Exposure to toxic or hazardous chemicals, or biological agents can cause serious health risks. Again, proper handling of these substances, adequate training, and provision of personal protective equipment (PPE) can significantly reduce any risk.
- Workplace harassment and abuse. Bullying, sexual harassment, and verbal abuse from co-workers, customers, or managers is a serious health and safety issue. The implementation of safety cameras, security systems such as access control readers, and clear and proper reporting procedures can stop and minimize this risk. Ultimately a good look into the organisation’s culture and values can make an even greater change.
- Mental health. We have already touched on this briefly in the opening paragraph, addressing workplace mental health is becoming increasingly important. Stress and mental health are usually cited as the second highest cause of workplace absence, the first being minor illness.
- Ergonomics. Poor ergonomics can lead to musculoskeletal disorders and injuries. Think about improper workstation setup, repetitive motions, heavy lifting, and prolonged sitting or standing. This can be addressed by providing good equipment and training, and providing regular and adequate breaks for staff.
Easing anxiety around employee health and safety is important and will result in creating a positive and productive work environment. This will also save employers money due to disruptions caused by illness and work absence or even avoid unnecessary legal action.
Communicating with employees regarding health and safety protocols. This includes regular updates on any policy changes and updates, or new legislation enacted. For employees and staff to feel safe they must be kept in the loop, understand how policies will affect them and what responsibilities and expectations are placed on them. It is also helpful to create a space where they can ask questions and challenge assumptions.
Clear communication also includes clear signposting, labels, charts, and diagrams communicating important information not only increases safety and awareness but also reduces stress and anxiety. Especially if the signposting is about instructions to follow during emergencies, helpful reminders to take a break or good practices.
Education and training
As we explored the top causes of health and safety concerns in the workplace, many issues can be addressed by providing good, comprehensive, and regular training about health and safety procedures. It’s also important to note that different individuals have different learning styles and one teaching method will not work for all. So, providing diverse training that caters to different learning needs is a good investment in battling anxiety and poor mental health.
As we also mentioned, easing anxiety about health and safety is also about mental health and anxiety. Common causes for these in the workplace can often be about changing systems, and procedures, using new equipment and software. Providing ongoing support and good training and education is important, some businesses have away days or training days where they take their employees away to provide training, while others offer more individualistic types of support and training. Providing courses or encouraging employees to find their own but offering to pay for that external provision.
Getting your employees involved and giving impute and feedback in the decision-making process regarding health and safety measures is a good way to combat anxiety. This must be followed up by addressing their concerns, this will foster a sense of ownership and empowerment.
Provide mental health support
Recognize the importance and impact anxiety can have on your employee’s well-being, and provide good support for them. Support such as mental health first aiders, counseling services, or financial support to cover therapy and other well-being services. Try and foster a culture in your business that will promote good mental health and a healthy work-life balance.
Encourage managers to have regular check-ins with employees, this could be a few hours a month or so to have a coffee outside the office to just check how people are doing, whether they are coping, and whether there are less formal issues to discuss. This can also be a chance for employers to address concerns, answer questions, and give updates. This can be seen as an investment into building trust, fostering a good relationship between staff, and alleviating anxiety.
Making it less awkward to speak to managers or employers, will foster good communication and again empower staff to communicate better and be willing to contribute to important conversations or ask for support with fear or anxiety. Ultimately fostering good mental health.
Remember, maintaining employee health and safety is an ongoing process, these strategies are the start of creating a culture that prioritises well-being and ease anxiety among employees.
Adam Mulligan, a psychology graduate from the University of Hertfordshire, has a keen interest in the fields of mental health, wellness, and lifestyle.