NSC: Work-Related Stress Emerging as Major Global Occupational Health Hazard

Sept. 26, 2005
Illness and injury resulting from job-related stress are an increasingly costly downside of a changing, more global workplace, according to studies presented at the 17th World Congress on Health and Safety at Work, held last week in Orlando, Fla.

"With all its many advantages, the global, multicultural work environment has also contributed to a new workplace health hazard stress," said National Safety Council (NSC) President and CEO Alan McMillan. "Employers are beginning to recognize that the better they can prevent and address occupational stresses, the more productive and healthy their workers and businesses will be."

Among the major points raised at the World Congress:

  • Work-related stress only recently has been recognized as one of the major causes of some of the most costly, time-robbing health problems for business: Of 40.2 million working days lost by illness and injury, 13.4 million are from stress, anxiety and depression.
  • Among the high risk factors for workplace stress are work overload, lack of recognition from co-workers and supervisors, poor relations with supervisors, a low level of participation in decisions and insufficient communication of information. Prevention of workplace stress is only in its infancy.
  • Addressing psychosocial problems in workplace health and safety plans does not have to be daunting or costly. By involving employees in decisions about workplace problems, morale improves, stress lessens, health and safety issues are resolved and costs go down.
  • Among the stresses created by a more globalized workplace are: culture shock among those transferred to new countries or from a rural to an urban setting, isolation among outsource workers and displacement resulting from mega-mergers and downsizings.
  • Stress can be the hidden trigger behind cardiovascular and musculoskeletal disorders, obesity, depression and violence all costly workplace hazards.

"In the U.S. alone, stress is creating a workplace hazard every bit as damaging as chemical and biological hazards," said Donna Siegfried, executive director of workplace wellness programs for NSC. "With the proper tools, training and education, it will be possible to address this new menace as efficiently as we have addressed the more traditional causes of lost productivity,"

Since the NSC was founded in 1913, injury-related deaths in the workplace have declined 93 percent, even though the work force has quadrupled and now produces nine times the goods and services that it did then, McMillan said. "We need to arouse that same dedication to addressing today's workplace health and safety challenges, including stress, as we have those in the past so we can achieve the same kind of uplifting results in the years ahead," he said.

More than 3,000 safety and health professionals from more than 110 nations attended the 17th World Congress on Safety and Health at Work, which was jointly organized by NSC, the United Nations' International Labor Organization and the International Social Security Association.

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