Terry McDonald: Site Safety

During tough economic times employees are under more stress than ever before, with personal and work-related pressure increasing daily. Open communication can help.

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Stress… is this a serious safety issue? How does stress affect your workplace? Do you bring your stress from home to work with you? What about the economic stress that we are all currently operating under? Does your “boss” stress you out? Are you one of the lucky ones who have survived the layoffs? I would expect that, if this is so, you’re also now expected to produce more with less help than you had a year or two ago. The kids are going back to school and the costs are rising, which contributes to your stress. Summer is almost over, and you didn’t accomplish what you had intended to this summer, which only results in more stress.

We are all well aware of the health complications that are related to personal stress. It seems that every day in the papers, on television, on the Internet, and elsewhere there is someone pointing out that we have to remove stress from our lives if we want to live to a ripe old age. I think that a little stress is good for the soul. It keeps our attention on the things that are really important to us, and I believe that without any stress life would be so boring that we may not want to live longer. It’s like the old joke that if you give up all the fun things you do in life you really won’t live longer, it will just seem like it.

But how does stress affect safety in the workplace? I see this as a very real danger. Just the increased workload can easily lead to carelessness, which we all know causes most of the accidents that happen. I want to talk about an area of stress that somehow does not seem to be discussed very often. This is the mood of the workers. Stress, of course, affects each of us differently. Some of us get cranky, some get “hyped up,” and others try to simply ignore their problems. We see many different moods that can be attributed to stress, and all of them can cause carelessness. How do we as concerned safety personnel combat these conditions? Well, in the worst cases it is probably best to simply send some employees home until they can overcome their stress to the extent that they can contribute to their job in a safe manner. None of us are professionally equipped to deal with the psychological factors that our employees may be experiencing, so all we can offer is a workplace that is as stress-free as we can make it. And, believe me, at this particular point in time it seems like an almost impossible task. The only real suggestion I can offer is to make sure that the lines of communication are kept open so that your employees understand the situation as it pertains to them, their job, and the company. Of anything we can do, providing open communication is probably the best way to help relieve stress in the work environment.

A few columns ago I suggested that we all get our houses in order for OSHA due to the new administration, which is probably making changes in the rules and regulations. As it turns out, there are definitely changes on the horizon. The agency is increasing its staff of inspectors, and also the number of inspections to be made each year. There is a bill in the works to increase the possible fines that OSHA can administer, and the new administration seems determined to contribute to making the workplace safer for all of us. I bring this up because, with the economy the way it is right now, we can’t afford to be the target of increased costs that can now be charged if we don’t keep up with the rules and regulations. I highly recommend that you regularly visit OSHA’s Web site to keep up at [www.osha.gov]. It will save you money in the long run. 

Stress Statistics
• 40% of workers reported their job was very or extremely stressful.
• 5% view their jobs as the number-one stressor in their lives.
• Three fourths of employees believe that workers have more on the job stress than a generation ago.
• 29% of workers felt quite a bit or extremely stressed at work.
• 26% of workers said they were “often or very often burned out or stressed by their work.”
• Job stress is more strongly associated with health complaints than financial or family problems.

National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health

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is partner and manager of Repair Parts, Inc., and a current member and past–chairman of the American National Standards Institute B11.11 Subcommittee on Safety Requirements for Construction, Care, and Use of Gear Cutting Equipment. McDonald writes this monthly column specifically for Gear Solutions magazine, and he can be reached at (815) 968–4499 or rpi@repair–parts–inc.com. The company's Web site is [www.repair–parts–inc.com].