Safety And Mental Health At Work: Whose Responsibility Is It?

Safety And Mental Health At Work: Whose Responsibility Is It?

An employee’s safety and mental health is one of the focal points of many labor-related discourse today. According to a recent report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 2.7 million non-fatal injuries and illnesses in the private industry in 2020.

Meanwhile, The 2021 State of Mental Health in America report shows that mental health issues such as anxiety and depression have become America’s most costly illnesses, costing $51 billion in absenteeism and productivity loss.  

There are a number of factors that can affect a person’s mental health at work, such as job satisfaction, work hours, a company’s health and safety policies, among others.

The question remains, however: whose responsibility is it actually to make sure that the mental health of employees are taken care of? Let’s look at what responsibilities fall on your employers and what ultimately fall on you.

The Cost of Safety and Mental Health

Unaddressed mental health issues can have severe ramifications at work. Employees dealing with mental health issues and substance misuse tend to be more distracted at work, which can easily lead to workplace accidents.

The CDC estimates that 18% of workplace injuries are related to alcohol use. As well prescription pain medication is also associated with workplace injuries.

These issues, in turn, cost approximately $250 billion annually in medical expenses, lost earnings, and benefits, as well as reduced productivity.

Another expected cost of unaddressed mental health issues is an increase in a company’s turnover rates.

This can be costly to an employer as high turn-over rates entail repeated recruitment and training processes. It is estimated that the cost of turnover can be up to 50% of an employee’s annual salary.

On the other hand, supporting the mental health of employees does have significant benefits, too.

According to a study by the National Safety Council and the NORC at the University of Chicago, employers who invested in their employees’ mental health and safety saw a $4 return for every dollar allotted for mental health treatment.

Moreover, a separate study published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine shows that 86% of employees reported improved workplace performance and lower rates of absenteeism after receiving treatment for depression.

These details show just how important it is for workplace mental health and safety issues to be addressed.

But then again, what are the responsibilities of employers when it comes to ensuring their employees’ mental health and safety?

As well, what are the employees’ responsibilities to make sure that they remain safe, both mentally and physically, while at work?

Offering a Mentally and Physically Safe Working Environment

It is already known that one’s physical environment directly correlates to productivity and well-being. Environmental factors such as location, lighting, temperature, and even an office’s layout contribute to an employee’s productivity.

For example, a CareerBuild study shows that 53% of employees are less productive when the office is too cold. Meanwhile, a different study by Exeter University found that open space layouts can cause employee well-being to drop by 32% and productivity by 15%.

As such, providing a safe working environment for employees, both in terms of physical and mental safety, is not only a responsibility but a legal obligation of an employer.

These legal obligations are covered under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999, which require employers to do all they reasonably can to make the work environment safe, as well as to carry out risk assessments to prevent employees from hurting themselves at work.

Employers need to prevent any risks to begin with, as failing to provide a safe working environment for their employees can have significant legal and financial repercussions.

Developing Appropriate Responses

Health and safety protocols do help in making sure that risks in the workplace are minimized.

However, they are not fool-proof, as work-related physical injuries still happen and mental-health-related issues are still on the rise.

These injuries not only affect an employee’s physical health but can also have serious mental health ramifications, such as trauma.

In case injuries happen at work, an employer always faces a certain degree of liability, as the company can face a lawsuit and an investigation into the cause of the accident.

However, how an employer responds to the accident does help them minimize the legal ramifications they may face.

As such, employers need to have medical professionals at the workplace so that injured employee gets the immediate medical attention they need.

The employer also has to make sure that emergency services are notified and that the employer is rushed to the nearest hospital in case the injury appears serious.

An employer also must file a report regarding the injury and cooperate if the employee files a claim for compensation for the injury or its long-term consequences, including post-traumatic stress disorder.

After the employee recovers, the employer should also treat them like the other employees to avoid violating labor laws.

Providing Wellbeing Support

The physical environment, of course, is not the only factor that plays into the well-being of employees. There need to be systems in place to make sure that the employees’ well-being is duly supported.

Workplace well-being plays a significant role in determining an organization’s long-term effectiveness.

Bert Jacobs, the founder of the positive lifestyle brand Life is Good, says that emphasizing employee well-being is a smart strategy for building a strong business.

Supporting the well-being of employees can mean adopting programs that target specific health problems. These programs should come hand in hand with existing health and safety measures.

This can mean creating a system that allows employees to manage their stress levels effectively and gives them access to counseling if they need it.

Should some employees show mental health issues that could qualify as a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act, an employer should provide reasonable workplace accommodation, which can include altered breaks and work schedules, changes in supervisory methods, and changes in workplace policies.

It is also up to the employer to prohibit discrimination against employees with these issues and prevent harassment based on this disability.

Following Health and Safety Protocols

It was mentioned earlier that an employer is legally obligated to provide a safe working environment for their employees. This legal obligation falls under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.

The level of risks associated with one’s occupation can vary depending on which industry one works in, but what remains important is that protocols for good practices are implemented across all areas.

However, while implementing health and safety protocols falls under an employer’s tasks, employees also share some responsibility, the most important being following the health and safety protocols in place.

Following your workplace’s health and safety protocols do not only mean practicing good common-sense practices. It also entails educating yourself on the hazards, safety practices, and rules implemented in your workplace.

If you notice anything that might be hazardous in your workplace, it is also your duty as an employee to warn others and notify the appropriate person in your company.

It should be noted that these are not simply best practices that you should abide by – these are legal obligations of an employee, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

OSHA’s General Duties Clause states, “Each employee shall comply with occupational safety and health standards and all rules, regulations, and orders issued according to this Act which is applicable to his own actions and conduct.”

Managing Stress Levels

Given that your employer offers you a physically and mentally safe work environment and that there are systems to support your well-being, it is then up to you to make sure that you also personally manage your stress levels.

This primarily means that aside from following safety policies in your work, you also need to use the systems in place that are meant to help you.

On a more personal responsibility, stress management can also entail using a time management system that works for you so that you can stay on top of your tasks. While this is an effective way to manage stress, studies show that only 18% of employees use one.

Managing your time well can also mean that you would have planned well enough around your tasks so that you can also use your vacation days when you want, something that 55% of American employees were not able to do last year.  

Aside from managing your time and taking a break, there are also other effective ways in which you can relieve stress. The American Psychological Association (APA) explains that many stressors in the workplace are beyond an employee’s control.

These can include low salaries, excessive workloads, few opportunities for growth, work that is not engaging, and not having control over job-related decisions.

When facing these stressors, APA suggests healthy ways of coping, such as keeping a journal to track your stressors and your responses to them.

You can also develop healthy responses, making sure that you make healthy choices when you feel tensions rise. Finally, it is important that you establish boundaries between your work and personal life to fully recharge.

Safety hazards and mental health issues are important topics for work-related discourse, as these can significantly affect the employees and the company.

Performing the responsibilities listed above has significant benefits, such as increased productivity and job satisfaction, and these can also lead to decreased absenteeism, ultimately limiting productivity losses.

At the end of the day, both your employer and you as an employee have certain responsibilities in making sure that your work environment remains safe for your physical and mental well-being.

Subscribe To Our NewsLetter ⁄
Read Related Posts ⁄