It is 2020, and a new era in workplace safety has dawned. It is no longer necessary to find yourself hanging from a scaffold or work around fire or on an oily surface in order to risk your life on the job. These days, the constant presence of risk, as well as stress and overwork, can make a worker sick or even kill them. In fact, these days, workers are at much greater risk from what have come to be called “invisible” workplace safety threats than with traditional workplace accidents.
What Are These “Invisible” Risks?
These types of risks are common to a wider variety of workers these days, including nurses and medical interns who provide round-the-clock care, domestic workers who clean hotel rooms, serving help at restaurants, and even office workers who accumulate tons of overtime. Those workers who find themselves having 2-3 jobs just to make ends meet at home now find themselves in what shouldn’t be seen as high-risk jobs, and yet, that’s where they are.
According to the International Labor Organization (ILO), more than 7,500 workers globally lose their life at work every single day. And yet, only about 14% of them die on the job. Most of these work-related deaths (about 6,500 in all) are caused by long-term physical or mental illness, many of which start with work-related activity, although they don’t occur due to trauma. These types of conditions can include conditions affecting the circulatory or respiratory systems, or even cancer.
Overall, safety experts suggest that working environments have become much safer than they were a few decades ago, and there are fewer traumatic workplace accidents these days. However, in many ways, the physical and emotional health of workers is still extremely fragile. While it is true that traditional risks continue to this day – consider that the European Union recently reported a recent increase in fatal accidents in their construction sector – many other risks, including psychosocial and other risks, like stress, fatigue, bullying, and harassment are now seen as major factors in workplace health.
How Prevalent Are These Risks?
Many experts in the field of workplace safety have reported that psychosocial risks are quickly becoming something of a pandemic so far in the 21st Century, to the point that they have managed to add to the precariousness of work conditions throughout all labor markets. That is why some labor unions and government occupational health officials have embarked on several prevention campaigns targeting these “invisible” threats to workers. Some have also targeted employers who seem to exacerbate such risky conditions for workers as overloading, hyperconnectivity (forcing workers to always be available to employers and managers). While these types of risks are not new, such risks have become worse in recent years.
According to a number of relatively recent workplace studies, the most prevalent risk in many workplaces isn’t that presented by falling or being exposed to infectious agents, since many measures have been taken in most places to ensure that such risks are more or less under control increasing pressure and stress, precarious contracts, and too many working hours, to the point that they are not compatible with enjoying life. These problems continue to feed the “invisible” accident rate, which is one that rarely makes the news or shows up in traditional statistics, even though it is very real.
These days, everyone works in increasingly fast-paced and competitive markets, and that makes the stress all too common at a typical office; as common as the coffee machine. In fact, stress has been cited as the second-most common workplace health problem, responsible for as many as half of all reported workplace absences. This is especially true in the services industry and for workers in any sector in which highly skilled workers face a lot of added expectations. Such workers who are expected to perform at the highest level at all times are the most common victims of workplace stress.
Recent Report Demonstrates the Problem
According to a recent ILO health and safety report, about 36 percent of employees worldwide employees work too much ( which they define as more than 48 hours a week), and hat such a large amount of overtime puts them at risk. The report cites a close correlation between employees who work an excessive number of hours and the number of accidents at the workplace. That is because excessive work hours has been associated with chronic levels of fatigue, which in turn can lead to a number of other serious medical conditions, such as heart disease, gastrointestinal illnesses, a high rate of anxiety, depression, and sleeping disorders and a lot more.
The ILO report, like a number of other similar studies, included recommendations that officials in occupational health and safety positions enact measures designed to raise awareness of the problem of “invisible” workplace safety risks. They have also recommended updates to current regulations and employer standards, to include psychosocial risks in their preventive efforts, by including such factors in their risk analyses, medical examinations and other evaluations of their workplace safety risks.
At the same time, the ILO suggests there is no reason to even try to predict the risk at a workplace without considering these “invisible factors.” The key to a safer workplace is to slow things down somewhat and reduce competition and reducing every worker’s stress.