Health and Safety ReportVolume 11, Issue 3

On Topic

Addressing Work-related Stressprint this article

You feel overloaded at work and they changed your shift schedule again without warning. You can't get work off of your mind and are having trouble sleeping. To top it off, your stomach is acting up and those nagging headaches are back.

When the demands and pressures of your job are too much for you to handle, and you don't have much control over the situation, you may experience work-related stress (stress caused or made worse by work). If left unchecked for a prolonged period of time, stress can make you sick.

Why it's important

Work-related stress is widespread. In the European Union, work-related stress is second only to back pain as the most common work-related health problem, affecting 28% of workers. According to a survey by the American Psychology Association released in early March 2013, one-third of American employees experience chronic stress at work.

Whether it originates from within or out, the pressure to work at optimum pace and performance can take a toll on, and negatively impact, both the organization and the employee. Studies show that stressful working conditions are associated with increased absenteeism, tardiness, high staff turnover, reduced productivity and product/service quality, and increased compensation costs - all of which have a negative effect on the bottom line. The impact of stress on workers may include tobacco, alcohol or drug abuse, violent/bullying behaviour, sleep problems, anxiety, depression, inability to concentrate, and irritability. Chronic stress can also cause health issues such as back problems, heart problems, stomach ulcers, and hypertension, and can weaken the immune system.


Everyone has different thresholds for and triggers of stress, however some workplace factors are more likely to lead to stress than others.

Examples of potential causes of work-related stress include:

  • Job design: the job is not matched to worker skills and abilities; poor work shift design

  • Role: lack of clarity about responsibilities and/or expectations; conflicting roles and/or multiple supervisors

  • Relationships: constant discord, bullying, harassment or open aggressive behaviour

  • Control: no control over planning and deciding how work should be completed, or solving problems

  • Training: lack of training to equip employees for their jobs

  • Demands: unreasonable or unrealistic performance targets

  • Culture: poor communication, poor social environment, lack of support and respect

  • Physical environment: excessive noise, poor air quality, uncomfortable temperatures

Although some of these factors may occur in a workplace without leading to stress, the risk for stress increases when these factors occur in combination and/or for prolonged periods of time.

What employers can do

  • Treat all employees in a fair and respectful manner.

  • Assess the risks of work-related stress by looking for pressures at work that could cause high and prolonged levels of stress.

  • Take appropriate action to prevent the pressures from becoming negative stressors.

  • Match the workload to workers' capabilities.

  • Design meaningful jobs that are stimulating and provide opportunities for employees to use their skills.

  • Allow employees to have control over the tasks they do as much as possible.

  • Clearly define roles and responsibilities.

  • Provide employees with the training, skills and resources they need to do their jobs.

  • Establish work schedules that are compatible with demands and responsibilities outside the job.

  • Involve employees in decision-making and seek their input on issues affecting their jobs.

  • Improve communications and reduce uncertainty about career development and future employment prospects.

  • Value and recognize individuals' results and skills.

  • Provide opportunities for social interaction among employees.

  • Provide access to Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs).

What employees can do

Often the source of the stress is something that you cannot change immediately. Therefore, it is important to find ways to help maintain good mental health and be proactive in dealing with stress. In the workplace, you may find some of the following tips to be helpful:

  • Try to relax; take several deep breaths throughout the day, or have regular stretch breaks.

  • Take 10 minutes at the beginning of each day to prioritize and organize your day.

  • Be constructive and make practical suggestions.

  • Be realistic about what you can change.

  • Take your breaks. Go for a walk at lunch or do something you enjoy that is not work-related.

Respectful workplaces that encourage good communications and healthy work systems are more likely to have a healthy and productive workforce.


Hazard Alerts

Alert: Respiratory Disease from Exposures Caused by Dampness in Buildingsprint this article

Office buildings, schools, and other non-industrial buildings may develop moisture and dampness problems from roof and window leaks, high indoor humidity, and flooding. Moisture or dampness can lead to the growth of mould, fungi, and bacteria; the release of volatile organic compounds; and the breakdown of building materials - all which can cause occupants to develop respiratory symptom and disease. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) released an alert to warn of this hazard.

Research studies have shown that people who are exposed to building dampness and mould can develop respiratory symptoms, asthma, hypersensitivity pneumonitis (inflammation of the lungs), rhinosinusitis, bronchitis, and respiratory infections. People with asthma or hypersensitivity pneumonitis may be at risk for developing more severe disease if the exposure to the damp building is not recognized as the source of the illness, and they continue to be exposed.

The NIOSH alert advises building owners, employers, or occupants to use the following approaches to minimize ongoing building dampness.

What building owners and employers can do

  • Establish an indoor environmental quality (IEQ) team to oversee implementation of an IEQ program. The IEQ team should consist of a coordinator and representatives of the building employees, employers, and building management. IEQ teams for schools may wish to include nurses, school board officials, and parents.

  • Always respond when occupant health concerns are reported.

  • Regularly inspect building areas such as roofs, ceilings, walls, basements, crawl spaces, and slab construction for evidence of dampness; take prompt action to identify and correct the causes of any dampness found.

  • Prevent high indoor humidity through the proper design and operation of heating, ventilating, and air-conditioning (HVAC) systems.

  • Conduct regularly scheduled inspections of HVAC systems and promptly correct any problems.

  • Within 48 hours, dry any porous building materials that become wet from leaks or flooding.

  • Clean and repair or replace any building materials that are moisture-damaged or show evidence of visible mould growth. Follow established remediation procedures.

  • Inform occupants that respiratory effects from exposure in damp buildings can occur and implement a system for responding to:

    • building dampness and musty or mouldy odors, leaks, and flooding incidents.

    • building-related respiratory symptoms or disease.

  • Encourage occupants who have developed persistent or worsening respiratory symptoms while working in the building to see a healthcare provider; preferably a doctor specializing in occupational medicine.

  • Follow recommendations from a healthcare provider for relocation of occupants diagnosed with building-related respiratory disease.

What occupants can do

  • Inform your building manager/owner about signs of leaks, flooding, dampness, musty or mouldy odors, and ventilation problems in the building; also, let your employer or building manager/owner know of any respiratory problems that may be building-related.

  • See your doctor if you have developed persistent or worsening health symptoms while working in the building:

    • Check local listings to find a doctor or clinic specializing in occupational medicine if possible.

    • Let your employer or building manager/owner know if your doctor recommends relocation to another work area to prevent exposure to mould or dampness-related contaminants that may be causing or worsening your symptoms in situations where dampness problems persist.

Read the full alert (PDF) from NIOSH.

More resources from CCOHS

Indoor Air Quality - Moulds and Fungi, fact sheet

Mould in the Workplace: A Basic Guide

Indoor Air Quality: An Introduction, e-course

Indoor Air Quality Health & Safety Guide

Mould, Spores and More: The Real Deal, webinar

Partner News

Day of Mourning: Remember the Dead, Commit to Preventionprint this article

Remembering lives lost or injured in the workplace

In 2011, 919 workers in Canada lost their lives to a disease or injury they incurred from work-related causes. Even more disturbing, is that eight of those who died were teenagers; twenty-six were between the ages of twenty and twenty-four years.

There are close to three work-related deaths each day in Canada - each one leaving a trail of pain for the families impacted by the loss of a husband, wife, father, mother, brother, sister, son or daughter. And most - if not all - are fatalities that could have been prevented.

To honour those workers across the country whose lives have been lost, who have been injured or disabled on the job, or suffer from occupational diseases, April 28th has been set aside as the National Day of Mourning. The Day of Mourning is an opportunity not only to remember, but also for employees and employers to publicly renew their commitment to preventing work-related injuries, illnesses and deaths and making workplaces safe and healthy for all.

This day of observance was established when the Workers Mourning Day Act was passed in December 1990. Since that time, various events are organized each year by labour organizations across the country to express remembrance for the family, friends, and colleagues who have suffered in carrying out workplace duties. The Canadian flag on Parliament Hill will fly at half-mast. Workers will light candles, don ribbons and black armbands, and observe moments of silence.

Over the years, the day of observance known in most other countries as the Workers' Memorial Day, has spread to over 75 countries and is now an international day of remembrance of workers killed in incidents at work, or by diseases caused by work. In addition, the International Labour Organization (ILO) celebrates the World Day for Safety and Health at Work on April 28th to promote the prevention of occupational accidents and diseases globally.

Up close and personal

Statistics can be impersonal and cold. But the stories of real life people who have suffered the loss of a limb or a loved one from a work-related injury bring the statistics to life and put faces to the numbers. To this end, CCOHS has recorded podcasts with two victims of workplace tragedies who share their personal journeys.

Bill Bowman lost his arm as a young worker. Now, decades later he shares his story of loss and how he and his family were impacted by this life altering injury.

Listen to this nine-minute podcast: Workplace Injuries: A Personal Story.

Shirley Hickman's life changed forever when her son Tim was killed on the job just shy of his twenty-first birthday. Shirley shares her painful journey and what inspired her to create the Threads of Life organization, which supports workers and their families who are affected by life-altering workplace injuries, illnesses and deaths.

Listen to this nine-minute podcast: Shirley Hickman - A Mother's Story.

The CCOHS website has more information about the National Day of Mourning.

For further statistical information, visit AWCBC National Work Injuries Statistics Program.

Update your Facebook page with the free Day of Mourning cover images.

Find a Steps for Life walk in your community.

Health and Safety To Go

Podcasts: Patient Lifts and Risk of Prolonged Sittingprint this article

This month's Health and Safety To Go! podcasts offer tips on how to reduce risks of injury while using patient lifts, and feature an encore presentation on the health risks of sitting too long.

Feature Podcast: Don't Get Burdened by Patient Lifts

Caregivers and healthcare workers who must lift patients as part of their daily job can face challenges with this particular task. While mechanical lifts make it much easier to move and lift patients and can help reduce the ergonomic risks associated with manual patient handling, they also introduce other workplace hazards. Listen to this podcast for tips on how to reduce risk while using patient lifts.

The podcast runs 7:20 minutes. Listen to the podcast now.

Encore Podcast: Prolonged Sitting: The Risks of Sitting Too Long

CCOHS highlights the health issues surrounding prolonged sitting at work, and what workers can do to avoid the risks of sitting too long.

The podcast runs 3:55 minutes. Listen to the podcast now.

CCOHS produces free monthly podcasts on a wide variety of topics designed to keep you current with information, tips, and insights into the health, safety, and well-being of working Canadians. You can download the audio segment to your computer or MP3 player and listen to it at your own convenience... or on the go!

See the complete list of podcast topics. Better yet, subscribe to the series on iTunes and don't miss a single episode.

Last Word

Let Us Have It - and You Could Win Itprint this article

It's that time of year again when we check in with you to see how we're doing. We are continually making improvements to the Report based on feedback we receive from our readers. The Report is now emailed to more than 33,000 readers in more than 100 countries around the world every month.

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