Safety professionals are often of the mindset that if someone has no interest in helping people, they have no business being in safety. Safety is a people-first investment that also happens to benefit a business’s bottom line. An important part of ensuring that employees are safe is making sure they have good mental health—for their well-being and company productivity. How can EH&S personnel accomplish this? Though many EH&S professionals entered the field through a non-safety route, most do not have counseling degrees, nor are they supposed to “play the counselor.” Being responsible for the emotional stability of every employee at an organization is too tall an order for any person to fill. However, understanding common psychosocial risks and how they can be addressed with EH&S management best practices is a positive first step towards achieving greater overall employee wellness.
1. Work Content and Task Design
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), mundane and repetitive work can lead to poor mental health in employees. When workers don’t feel like their jobs are meaningful, they can be more likely to experience depression or dissatisfaction with their work. While an individual’s perception of their work is a personal decision, changing that perception may be possible by increasing opportunities for employee engagement and alleviating repetitive administrative tasks such as report writing. The first can be achieved with initiatives that allow employees to take ownership of the safety practices a company must enforce. The latter could be handled by introducing tools that automate administrative tasks, such as intuitive EH&S management software. Environmental, health, and safety (EH&S) management software allows businesses to manage compliance and risk data in one centralized location, thereby simplifying communication and streamlining frequently repeated tasks. For example, inspections can immediately be uploaded into preset templates, and everyone involved will get a notification of the report so that safety issues can be addressed right away. With this kind of support, employees will be freed up to complete the projects that stretch their thinking and give them a greater sense of accomplishment.
2. Workload and Work Pace
Another psychosocial risk factor the WHO mentions is being overworked and under intense pressure to meet deadlines. This can happen a lot, especially when time-consuming projects need to be completed over and over because the business doesn’t have the tools to automate the process. Coping with the constant stress of meeting deadlines can change the way our brain functions according to Psychology Today. Employees can become less likely to solve workplace problems and short fuses can become aggravated as the pressure to get things done gets more intense. Chronically working under the pressure of deadlines may lead to digestive problems, headaches, or even substance abuse—all of which can translate to absent employees and lost productivity.
Accounting for the fact that managers are often themselves under extreme deadlines (and remembering that their position does not entail providing counseling to workers who may be struggling) what can be done to address such a situation? In this case, top-down culture change surrounding priorities is needed. Productivity should never be prioritized over people. If that is the message that upper management is conveying, then poor communication may be the root problem to correct.
Once the work community is on the same page about what is or is not being prioritized, offering the right tools to help support these priorities and bridge the gaps between necessary deadlines and a smaller-than-ideal workforce is the next step. As mentioned with the previous psychosocial risk factor, EH&S management software is one tool that can help combat negative effects on employees’ mental health caused by deadline stress or being shorthanded. Compliance calendars keep track of all the tasks that need to be done and send out reminders, so employees are less likely to be caught off guard by a last-minute deadline. Customizable templates can reduce the workload between deadlines when nearly identical reports are involved.
3. Environment and Equipment
Poor working conditions and a lack of appropriate equipment can be detrimental to an employee’s well-being. A 2018 study found that even simple factors like poor lighting, too much noise, or being too hot or too cold can cause employees to feel insecure, harbor negative emotions, and be less productive overall. While there is no simple solution for creating a comfortable environment for hazardous work (work involving extreme temperatures, noisy conditions, confined spaces, etc.), EH&S management software can help mitigate some of these issues, making it easier for departments to track when repairs and maintenance are needed and get malfunctioning equipment fixed faster.
Additionally, more frequent hazard and PPE assessments can assist EH&S managers in ensuring that employees have access to the protective equipment they need. EH&S management software provides immediate recommendations for PPE based on the hazards listed in a work environment so that everyone knows what equipment they should use to safely do their jobs. These recommendations can be shown to upper management when making PPE and other necessary equipment requests to act as additional reinforcement, strengthening those communications.
4. Organizational Communication and Function
Poor communication, lack of employee support, and unclear objectives all fall under this psychosocial risk factor and can often lead to poor mental health situations at work. This psychosocial risk factor is often the result of EH&S staff not having the authority to enforce safety protocols. When “safety management” is purely a titular position, there will be a lack of commitment from any stakeholders. In this area, there is no substitute for clarity. EH&S managers should strive to promote active conversations between management and supervisors with front-line workers. This activity dynamically changes “doing safety to workers” to the much more engaging, “doing safety with workers.” The additional benefit to teams is a decrease in the propensity towards feelings of loneliness, isolation, or insignificance.
With mental health problems so prevalent in society—and workplaces—companies should be doing everything within their power to support their employees’ well-being. EH&S leaders can be most effective when they harness emotional intelligence to enforce safety protocols. This strength will assist in efforts to improve communication, motivate employee engagement and action, and work with upper management to be able to offer the workforce the support and tools they need to operate safely and stay productive, even in challenging times. EH&S management software can serve as a means of supporting efforts to confront many of the psychosocial risk factors that negatively affect employees’ mental health and overall well-being.
The SafetyStratus Research Advisory Group (RAG) brings together thought leaders from the global environmental, health, and safety community to promote best practices and provide key insights in the profession and the industries they serve. The Research Advisory Group also advocates, where practical, the intersection of and advances with the use of technology, such as the SafetyStratus enterprise EHS software platform. Group membership consists of representatives from across varied disciplines and market sectors as well as select members of the SafetyStratus team.
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While the objectives of the RAG are varied, the primary public-facing outcome will be available through engaging and practical content found on the SafetyStratus resource pages. Various articles, papers, and other valuable resources will be produced and shared as part of an ongoing effort to cultivate a robust community. Ultimately, the SafetyStratus RAG will expand to have a broader reach and provide opportunities for more inclusion by all interested EHS professionals in a collaborative community environment.