Written by: Virginia McCormick, NES, Inc.
The topics for National Safety Month 2020 are Mental Health, Ergonomics, Building a Safety Culture, and Driving.
National Safety Month 2020: Safety is Essential
Workplace safety obligations do not stop in the face of a pandemic. While the world readjusts to new health and safety behaviors and practices, employers across the U.S. can make good use of this time by recommitting their efforts toward protecting their workers. And now is the best time for employers to do so, as June marks the beginning of National Safety Month 2020.
National Safety Month 2020 is the continuation of an annual, month-long workplace safety awareness campaign first established by the National Safety Council (NSC) in 1996. According to NSC, National Safety Month, “focuses on saving lives and preventing injuries, from the workplace to anyplace” – an important and prevailing cause, particularly during the present COVID-19 pandemic.
The topics for National Safety Month 2020 are: Mental Health, Ergonomics, Building a Safety Culture, and Driving. In this post, NES will be covering weeks one and two of the safety awareness campaign – Mental Health and Ergonomics. Join us again on June 18, 2020 for our continuation article, which will provide an overview on the topics Building a Safety Culture and Driving.
Missed our coverage of National Safety Month 2019? Last year’s topics – Hazard Recognition, Slips, Trips, and Falls, Fatigue, and Impairment – can still be applied to creating a safer workplace for all. Read our June 2019 blog for more information: National Safety Month 2019.
Week One: Mental Health
According to the nonprofit advocacy organization Mental Health America (MHA), 1 in 5 American adults will suffer a diagnosable mental health condition in any given year, and 46% of all Americans will meet the criteria for a diagnosable mental health condition at some point in their lifetime. Mental health conditions are common, often misunderstood, and heavily stigmatized – especially in the workplace. In fact, MHA’s 2019 Mind the Workplace Report found that 69% of workers felt it, “safer to remain silent about workplace stress,” which ultimately can result in weaker employee engagement, reduced confidence in the workplace, and higher absenteeism.
As these conditions do not subside during work hours, NSC begins National Safety Month 2020 with a focus on mental health awareness in the workplace.
The most common mental health concerns exhibited in the workplace are depression, anxiety, and general stress. However, as detailed in a 2010 Harvard Mental Health Letter, it has been suggested that symptoms of these conditions may exhibit differently at the worksite than in other situations. The stigma associated with seeking mental health support in the workplace leads many employees to downplay or hide their suffering – actions that may not only damage employees’ health, but also reduce their production at work.
Certain safety concerns may fall to the wayside during times of crisis – particularly mental health. Employers have a duty to ensure this health concern is given the attention it merits.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) identifies the workplace as, “a key location for activities designed to improve well-being among adults.” Employers should promote mental health awareness and use National Safety Month 2020 as a good launch pad for creating a long-term dialogue about what can be improved to reduce stressors at work. CDC suggests employers seek out aid from their health care providers and government help agencies – such as those listed under Mental Health Resources on the California Department of Managed Health Care website.
Businesses that seek help from qualified outside sources will be able to develop, implement, and evaluate workplace health programs that properly address mental health and stress issues more effectively.
Additionally, employers must also recognize that the current global pandemic has emphasized the need for mental health support in the workplace. According to a March 25, 2020 poll from the American Psychiatric Association, one third of Americans stated that COVID-19 was having a serious impact on their mental health. It is important for employers, managers, and HR professionals to encourage and facilitate regular communication with employees – especially those working from home.
The current COVID-19 pandemic has reportedly had a serious impact on the mental health of one third of Americans. This, compounded with the usual work stressors, can have detrimental effects if ignored.
Week Two: Ergonomics
Ergonomics, like mental health, has taken a hit recently due to the COVID-19 crisis. Ergonomics, or the tailoring of working environments to promote efficiency and wellness, is understandably not considered a priority when trying to manage operations during a pandemic. However, with many employees still working remotely, complications such as not having a dedicated office space or lacking the right equipment can have a big effect on an employee’s ergonomic health.
Perhaps most evident in office work, properly configured desks, chairs, and even mouse pads can help employees not only stay productive, but also avoid detrimental and costly musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) such as carpal tunnel syndrome and lower back injuries. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), work-related MSDs are, “among the most frequently reported causes of lost or restricted work time.”
Musculoskeletal injury rates have also been increasing in industries outside of general office work. In 2018, Cal/OSHA adopted regulations to combat rising injury rates in the hotel housekeeping industry. To learn more, see the August 2018 NES blog, Preventing Musculoskeletal Hotel Housekeeping Injuries.
Ergonomics is defined as tailoring a working environment to promote an employee’s efficiency and wellness. Take the time to choose and adjust the right equipment for the right job.
Several industries, such as grocery stores and meatpacking plants, have industry-specific OSHA guidelines to address pervasive ergonomic concerns. However, even employers in industries without specific guidelines must adhere to the General Duty Clause, Section 5(a)(1) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act, to keep their workplace free from recognized serious hazards, including ergonomic hazards. Essentially, employers need to be ready and willing to address their employees’ potential ergonomic complications by redesigning workstations, providing more accessible equipment, and scheduling training for employees on safe ergonomic policies.
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has a wide variety of resources available for employers to utilize when assessing ergonomic hazards, from the general (Elements of Ergonomic Programs) to the specific (Alternative Keyboards).
Employees should tailor their workspace so that they meet ergonomic standards – not just comfort. There is no “one-size-fits-all” solution, so employees are encouraged to seek resources to determine their requirements. The Mayo Clinic offers a how-to guide for some of the more simple solutions, such as monitor placement and chair height adjustment.
National Safety Month 2020 is a good opportunity for employees to address – and potentially reassess – their workplace’s ergonomic procedures and programs.
Participating in National Safety Month 2020 with NSC and NES
Employers and workers can take important steps toward staying safe this month and all year long by using the information above and by downloading and sharing free NSC National Safety Month 2020 safety materials such as posters, tip sheets, and relevant articles.
Employers should challenge themselves to reach out to their employees this June, especially regarding mental health and ergonomics. According to the World Health Organization, for every dollar put into treatment for common mental disorders, the company will see a return of four dollars in improved health and productivity. And an effective ergonomics program will enable employers to detect ergonomic hazards and address them quickly, resulting in fewer injury days taken away from work.
Remember that safety does not stop, even during a pandemic. Please be sure to join us again on June 18, 2020 for our second half of National Safety Month 2020 coverage. Until then, NES is here to help your business or agency with its training or consulting needs to help promote safer workplace environments (view our open enrollment training page by clicking here). For more information about our environmental health & safety training and consulting capabilities, contact NES at 916-353-2360 / 1-800-NES-ADVISE (1-800-637-2384) or firstname.lastname@example.org.