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The Link Between Stress and Worker Safety

Apr 02, 2024

Updated: Aug 2, 2023

We all know stress is bad for our health, and working in an already stressful environment can impact work performance and safety. In fact, research from the Families and Work Institute found that 41 percent of workers experience stress “often” or “very often” on the job. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has even begun a job stress research program, which seeks to understand the influence of workplace stressors on accidents and injuries.

What’s more, aside from its immediate effects on worker health and safety, persistent stress also can play a role in serious, chronic illnesses. Small doses of stress can be manageable and even beneficial, but chronic workplace stress is a threat to the well-being of your employees and your long-term profitability. Because of these risks, it’s important for every employer to understand the links between stress and worker safety, and to take the appropriate precautions to keep employees’ stress under control. In this article, we’ll share a few ways that stress affects your workers’ health, and strategies you can use and empower them to keep it at a manageable level.

Stress is closely linked to several chronic diseases, including cardiovascular disease—one of the most common causes of death in the industrialized world. Research from the Bio Behavioral Institute suggests that in many cases, stressed individuals ultimately make unhealthier life choices, including drinking and smoking. Likewise, a 2007 University of Melbourne study found that men who experience “moderate” or “extreme” job stress were twice as likely to smoke.

Still, other research has established more direct links between workplace stress and chronic disease. A 2008 study of British civil servants found that the most stressed government workers had a 68 percent greater risk of developing heart disease. These employees had lower heart rate variability (a common sign of adrenal stress or “burnout”) and increased levels of the stress hormone cortisol. While cortisol is an important part of a normal stress response, chronically high levels can damage blood vessels and the lining of the heart. Even when researchers adjusted for lifestyle factors such as smoking and poor diets, the most stressed workers were still found to have the greatest risks for heart disease.

Recent research has also linked chronic stress and greater risks of accidents. For instance, the American Nurses Association conducted a survey in which 80 percent of nurses said on-the-job stress impacts their safety; 59 percent said workplace pressure leads them to rush and take unsafe shortcuts. Ultimately, limiting both the short-term and long-term impacts of stress requires that employers understand the most common stressors.

How can you curb the effects of these and other stressors? Everyone deals with stress differently, but here are a few strategies that have proven effective for most workers.

Ultimately, you’ll need to dig into exactly how stress is impacting safety and performance at your unique worksites. To do that, you’ll need a dependable tool for tracking accidents, illnesses and the hazards that cause them.

Business and Learning Resources (BLR), a division of Simplify Compliance, LLC, is an industry-leading knowledge provider with more than 40 years of experience in human capital management, environmental, health, and safety; learning and development; and legal markets. BLR® provides innovative education solutions designed to help businesses deliver consistent training, achieve compliance, and maximize efficiencies in employee workflows, resulting in measurable performance and financial improvements.

Updated: Aug 2, 2023