Preventing Psychological Injury in the Workplace

Employers have both a moral and a legal responsibility to keep their employees safe. This obligation does not end with physical safety, but also includes psychological safety. Given the pandemic’s effects on everyone, along with managing remote work and back to the workplace protocols, it is more important than ever for employers to identify psychological hazards and mitigate their risks.

What is a psychological hazard?

From a psychological perspective, hazards are any factor or situation that could increase the probability of an employee having a physical, emotional, or mental response to stress. And while a stress response does not necessarily constitute a psychological injury, prolonged or excessive exposure to stress can lead to psychological or sometimes physical injury.

Such injuries not only impact the affected worker, but they can also negatively affect the company in terms of lower productivity, increased absenteeism, higher staff turnover, and employees who lack engagement or have a higher rate of errors in their work. Psychological hazards generally fall into one of three categories:

  • Environmental – these are often physical hazards that can have a negative impact on an employee’s comfort in the workplace, such as unsafe machinery, poor air quality, extreme noise, or uncomfortable temperatures.
  • Organizational – these hazards have more to do with how the company is run and the relationship between workers and management. Organizational psychological hazards include lack of support, high job demand, poor communication, bullying, etc.
  • Individual – finally, it is important to remember that something that may be a psychological hazard to one worker may not bother another. For example, a fast-paced, demanding job may not be an issue for a more experienced worker but may be overwhelming to a younger worker with less experience.

Steps to managing psychological hazards in the workplace

In order to manage and prevent psychological hazards in the workplace, you can follow these steps:

1. Identify potential psychological hazards.

Just as you observe your workplace to identify physical hazards, it is important to identify possible psychological hazards. Part of doing this may include consulting with workers and management in order to get genuine feedback.

You should also go over absenteeism and turnover trends, incident reports and staff complaints to see if you can identify any trends.

2. Assess the risks and prioritize.

After identifying the hazards, the next step is conducting a risk assessment. By determining the level of risk a potential hazard poses and how likely it is to inflict harm, you can determine which control measures to implement in the short, medium, and long term. For example, a case of bullying in the workplace is likely to cause more psychological harm than a minor communication breakdown, so you would want to address the bullying first.

Additionally, you will want to consider how frequent and intense the exposure to the hazard is. If you have workers that are exposed to the hazard daily, it will need to be managed more quickly than exposure to a less frequent hazard.

3. Control the risks

Now that you have identified and prioritized the risks, it is time to take steps to control them. The control measures that you use will vary based on your organization and the risks themselves. An example of dealing with high demand in the workplace might be hiring more people to work during peak times, where a control for bullying in the workplace might be to develop a code of conduct, workplace training, and appropriate measures to penalize bullying when it is reported.

4. Monitor and review hazards and control measures.

Finally, just as with physical hazards, you need to conduct regular reviews of psychological hazards to determine if your control measures are effective. Through regular monitoring, you are more likely to catch issues sooner before psychological injury occurs.

Contact TeksMed today

Does your company have a protocol in place to deal with psychological injury and a return-to-work program? TeksMed can help. Contact us today to learn how we can support your organization’s disability management goals.

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