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First published by Safety+Health an NSC publication.

COVID-19 has changed the way we all work. Some of us never stopped physically going to work, while others have been working remotely since mid-March. No matter where we are, working during a pandemic has added stress to our daily lives. How you deal with this stress can positively or negatively affect your well-being.

Some of the symptoms of COVID-19-related stress, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, include concern about being exposed to the disease at work, taking care of your loved ones while you’re working, managing a change in workload, and uncertainty about the future of your workplace or employment.

Manage job stress by following these tips from CDC:

  • Communicate with your co-workers about job stress while maintaining physical distancing.
  • Identify factors that cause you stress, and work together with your colleagues to develop solutions.
  • Increase your sense of control by creating a consistent daily routine when you can. If you work from home, set a regular time to stop working each day.
  • Stick to a regular sleep schedule. The National Sleep Foundation recommends seven to nine hours of sleep a night for adults.
  • Take breaks from work to stretch, exercise or check in with your co-workers, family and friends.
  • Get active: Spend time outdoors, either exercising or relaxing.
  • Ask your supervisor or human resources department about the mental health resources your organization offers.
  • During non-work hours, spend time doing activities you enjoy.
  • Connect with others. Talk with people you trust about your concerns, how you’re feeling or how the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting you.
  • Take breaks from watching or reading news stories. Hearing about the pandemic repeatedly can be upsetting and mentally exhausting.

For more information, go to sh-m.ag/3k6mGeR.


McCraren Compliance assists employers in protecting their workers, starting with a comprehensive Work-site Analysis, Hazard Prevention, Controls, and Safety & Health Training.

Feeling blue? Take a walk by the water, researchers say

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Photo: Peter Berglund/iStockphoto

Barcelona, Spain — Walking along bodies of water might boost your overall health and mood, results of a recent study led by researchers from the Barcelona Institute for Global Health suggest.

Over a period of three weeks, the researchers studied 59 healthy adult office workers before, during and after each spent 20 minutes a day in different environments, measuring their blood pressure and heart rate while assessing their mood via a questionnaire. For one week, the participants walked along a beach in Barcelona. For another week, they walked in an urban environment. For the next, they spent 20 minutes at rest indoors.

The results show that walking along “blue spaces” – areas such as beaches, lakes, rivers and fountains – immediately triggered “significantly improved well-being and mood responses.” They found no cardiovascular benefit, but point out that they assessed only short-term effects.

“Our results show that the psychological benefits of physical activity vary according to the type of environment where it is carried out, and that blue spaces are better than urban spaces in this regard,” Cristina Vert, lead study author and a researcher at the institute, said in a July 6 press release.

Short walks in blue spaces can benefit both well-being and mood. However, we did not observe a positive effect of blue spaces for any of the cardiovascular outcomes assessed in this study.

The study was published online June 19 in the journal Environmental Research.

 

Show compassion, provide stability, share hope: Total Worker Health experts talk return-to-work planning

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Photo: Missouri Department of Transportation

Washington — The director of NIOSH’s Office for Total Worker Health says employers should think about the physical and mental health needs of their employees returning to the job amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Continue to focus on the supports that workers need most in difficult times,” L. Casey Chosewood said during the agency’s June 25 webinar on strategies for safely returning people to the workplace. “They obviously want to trust you as they return to work, so show them compassion, provide stability and share hope that we will all get through this together.”

NIOSH colleagues R. Todd Niemeier, industrial hygiene team lead, and Kevin H. Dunn, a research mechanical engineer, joined Chosewood in discussing reopening scenarios for general business, offices and manufacturing settings.

They encouraged employers to get familiar with several key guidance documents, including the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s Interim Guidance for Businesses and Employers Responding to COVID-19 and Resuming Business Toolkit, which includes a restart readiness checklist and worker protection tool.

Dunn said restarting normal or phased business operations is an opportunity for employers to implement and update COVID-19 preparedness response and control plans. These plans should be specific to the workplace, identifying all areas and job tasks in which employees face potential exposure, and include measures to eliminate or control exposures.

Other recommendations:

  • Designate a COVID-19 workplace coordinator, and ensure all workers know who this person is and how to contact him or her. The coordinator also should know and follow local and state regulations, as well as public health guidelines.
  • Conduct a thorough hazard assessment to learn about existing and potential hazards as workers return.
  • Consider changing duties of vulnerable workers to minimize their risk and contact with customers and co-workers. A cashier, for example, could be moved to a restocking job, if it’s appropriate and the worker agrees to the new role.
  • Follow CDC guidance on air and water systems in facilities reopening after a prolonged shutdown. This includes following the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers’ Standard 180-2018, which establishes minimum requirements for heating, ventilation, and air conditioning inspection and maintenance.
  • Delegate authority so local offices or branches can react based on regional COVID-19 conditions, which vary by state. This will ensure local teams have a stake in how they respond appropriately.
  • Increase the outdoor air ventilation rate or total ventilation rate to improve central air filtration to the highest level possible that doesn’t impact overall airflow.
  • Remove items that create traffic, such as coffee machines and bulk snacks.
  • Allow more flexibility for time off and paid sick leave so employees who have to care for children or sick relatives can adjust their schedules accordingly.
  • Focus on proper and regular cleaning and disinfection of high-traffic and high-touch areas.
  • Regularly include workers and labor unions in safety discussions.

“Above all, keep communicating and provide those necessary flexibilities (for workers),” Chosewood said.

Mental health and your employees

mental health and your employees - McCraren Compliance, Tucson, Arizona

Employees returning to the workplace amid the COVID-19 pandemic may be experiencing mental health distress in several ways. Let the National Safety Council help you provide support. Use the Stress, Emotional and Mental Health Considerations for Return-to-Work Guidance playbook, developed as part of the SAFER initiative.

Mental health and your employees are one of the keys to business continuity and McCraren Compliance is here to support you.

Does job stress lead to early death? Study explores

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Photo: castillodominici/iStockphoto

Bloomington, IN — Little job autonomy and low cognitive ability, combined with stressors related to workload and demands, can lead to depression and early death, results of a recent study show.

Using data from 3,148 Wisconsin residents who participated in the Midlife in the United States survey, researchers from Indiana University and Northern Illinois University looked at “how job control – or the amount of autonomy employees have at work” – and cognitive ability (people’s ability to learn and solve problems) “influence how work stressors such as time pressure or workload affect mental and physical health and, ultimately, death.”

The researchers found “when job demands are greater than the control afforded by the job or an individual’s ability to deal with those demands, there is a deterioration to their mental health and, accordingly, an increased likelihood of death,” Erik Gonzalez-Mulé, assistant professor of organizational behavior and human resources at the IU Kelley School of Business, said in a May 19 press release.

Conversely, when workers had more autonomy, they experienced better physical health and a lower likelihood of death.

“We believe that this is because job control and cognitive ability act as resources that help people cope with work stressors,” Gonzalez-Mulé said. “Job control allows people to set their own schedules and prioritize work in a way that helps them achieve their work goals, while people that are smarter are better able to adapt to the demands of a stressful job and figure out ways to deal with stress.”

The study was published online April 9 in the Journal of Applied Psychology.

Focus on mental health

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Workers might be facing a number of issues during the COVID-19 crisis that can have an impact on mental health, including furloughs and layoffs, social isolation, financial hardships and worries, and health concerns for themselves and their families.

“I’ve heard it said that the next pandemic wave may be mental health,” said Marissa J. Levine, a professor at the University of South Florida, during an April 14 webinar on mental health hosted by NSC. “Honestly, I’m concerned about that. It’s affected every state, every one of us, in some way.”

Employees might be getting information from numerous, and sometimes unreliable, sources at this time. “It’s very difficult, in these anxious times, to catch peoples’ attention,” Eric Goplerud, chair of the board of directors for the Faith Alliance for Climate Solutions, said during the webinar. “There are 11 words which will help you communicate and break through the anxiety: A simple message, repeated often, from a variety of trusted sources.”

Levine recommended employers and managers follow and share coping strategies from sources such as the National Alliance on Mental Illness, which suggests taking breaks from consuming news reports related to the pandemic, taking time to unwind, working on physical fitness and social connections, setting goals and priorities, and focusing on the facts.

For employers, human resources teams and safety leaders, Goplerud encouraged more communication about benefits programs, such as an employee assistance program. Leaders also should encourage more interaction with benefits vendors.

Employers and managers can share honest updates about COVID-19 while also providing a positive outlook for the path forward.

“There’s a real opportunity here for focusing on the positives without minimizing the issues that we’re dealing with,” Levine said. “Having a can-do attitude and the power of positive thinking are needed now more than ever.”

The next wave? NSC webinar explores worker mental health during and after COVID-19 pandemic

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Photo: jamesjames2541/iStockphoto

Itasca, IL — The COVID-19 pandemic has radically changed how work gets done. Take for example Loveland, CO-based Nutrien, which transitioned one-fourth of its 24,000-person workforce to remote work in early March.

For the affected employees of the agricultural crop inputs and services provider, and the millions of others in organizations like it, adjusting to the “new normal” has not always been easy. This is why, in part, helping employees with mental health concerns related to the pandemic should be an important aspect of every employer’s response, John Horne, vice president of safety and health at Nutrien, said during an April 14 webinar hosted by the National Safety Council. Read More»

Suicide prevention advocates release workplace guidelines, call on employers to act

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Photo: The National Guidelines for Workplace Suicide Prevention

Washington — A trio of advocacy groups is calling on employers to take a proactive role in suicide prevention in the workplace, and has published a new set of guidelines.

The National Guidelines for Workplace Suicide Prevention were developed by the American Association of Suicidology, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and United Suicide Survivors International – with input from experts in human resources, employment law and employee assistance; labor and safety leaders; and workers who have experienced a suicide crisis on the job.

In 2018, the groups conducted an online survey of 256 people from 41 states and found that 46% of the respondents said they knew at least one friend, co-worker or family member who had attempted suicide, while 43% reported having lost at least one friend to suicide. Additionally, a 2018 analysis from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention concluded that suicides among the U.S. working age population rose 34% from 2000 to 2016.

According to the groups, the guidelines – part of an 88-page report – are applicable to small and large employers in all industries and throughout the public and private sectors. They:

  • Give employers and professional associations an opportunity to pledge to engage in the suicide prevention effort. To sign the pledge, go to WorkplaceSuicidePrevention.com.
  • Demonstrate an implementation structure for workplace best practices in a comprehensive, public health approach.
  • Provide data and resources to advance the cause of workplace suicide prevention.
  • Bring together diverse stakeholders in a collaborative public-private model.
  • Make recommendations for easily deployed tools, trainings, and resources for short-term action and comprehensive and sustained energy.

“We aim to change the culture of workplaces to reduce elements that cause job strain like sleep disruption, job insecurity and low job control – things shown to be connected to suicide risk,” AAS Executive Director Colleen Creighton said in a press release. “We know these guidelines will not only save lives, but will also alleviate intense emotional suffering by making changes to systems while helping individuals in the workplace.”