How stress – work, emotional and physical – links to injury rates

by on November 20, 2012 · 2 Comments POSTED IN: Workplace Safety Network

High levels – and low levels – of work-related and emotional-stress on the job can lead to workplace injuries: That’s the result of a new study by researchers in Hong Kong.

Researchers tested three kinds of job stress:

  • Work stress: This included the number of tasks and the complexity and difficulty of the work, as well as the hazardous nature and changing nature of the work environment (e.g., dangers that regularly needed to be avoided in the work environment and new dangers that must be noticed).
  • Emotional stress: This concerned levels of anxiety related to work, including worrying about work off hours.
  • Physical stress: This meant the physical toll: headaches, aches, pains, soreness during work – how hard it is to physically do the work.

What the research showed
When comparing work- and emotional stress to injuries, statisticians found what they call a U-shaped curve – lots of injuries at both ends of the scale. In this case, that means too little or too much stress, either emotional or work, increased injury rates.

That confirms what most safety pros have seen in the field: Too little emotional stress can mean someone isn’t focusing or isn’t taking the danger seriously – and that leads to injuries. Note: Too little stress can occur even in dangerous environments through complacency – you just get used to it from successfully completing dangerous tasks.

On the other hand, too much emotional and work stress takes away the focus workers need to complete work safely. Feeling overwhelmed is no way to complete high-hazard work.

Physical stress results were more complicated. Researchers found fewer injuries when workers were under little physical stress or under great stress – it’s the middle range that triggers injuries.

Low injury rates when there’s little physical stress is understandable – working more slowly means workers can take their time and work carefully. But high physical stress also reduced injuries, which puzzled researchers. Perhaps workers took more breaks, slowed down because they were tired, or took more days off to avoid the physical demands. In any of those cases, you’d agree that too-high physical stress isn’t a good thing.

Take home
For safety pros, this research indicates the need to take into account stress levels when analyzing your injury data. Talk to a few injured workers and their supervisors:

  1. Work-related stress: You want to see if there’s a gap between the injured workers’ expected abilities and actual abilities. Warning signs: “It was too easy; I did it a thousand times.” “I had to keep track of a lot of things at the same time.”
  2. Emotional: Ask how much they think about work off-hours, and what they think about. If you get a sense of worry or fatigue off-hours or they never think about it at all, you may have too high or too low stress, respectively.
  3. Physical: Since people get hurt in the middle range, review physical demands from time to time and make sure people aren’t being excessively taxed.

Source: Chan, Isabelle, et al., “Impact of Stress …,” 2011 Procs 27th Annual ARCOM Conference.

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2 Comments on This Post

  1. MunrosSafetyApparel
    November 27, 2012 - 9:04 pm

    Establishing a clear channel of communication between workers and their superiors can help facilitate a conversation involving work stress. If a worker is feeling overwhelmed by a task or is having some trouble with concentration due to work related stresses, speaking openly with their supervisor is a step to help both parties come up with a solution to decrease the work related stresses and improve productivity. Workers should feel comfortable speaking with their managers about these types of work related issues.

  2. paddyotoole12
    January 2, 2013 - 8:32 am

    People usually faces many problems in getting the workers compensation claim processed in their favour. But there are solicitors who are highly experienced and have great knowledge of accident at work Claim laws can get your claim processed easily.

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