OSHA and Workplace Stress

In a recent Google search for adjectives to describe the world’s experience with the SARS-CoV-2 virus and the illness COVID-19, there was quite a range of emotions voiced. Some of the descriptive terms included: frightening, enlightening, paralyzing, loss, fear, and gain. Whatever term or terms you might use, the word stressful does comes to mind. Anecdotal reports from our clients indicate that both patients and workers have felt the impact of this pandemic, and for many the impact has affected their overall sense of well-being.

OSHA has dedicated a page under Safety and Health Topics, Workplace Stress, Make Work Better, Mental Health Matters, which provides a great deal of insight into this important topic. The following statistics from the OSHA website shed light on the magnitude of workplace stress and its impact on a worker’s mental health:

  • Nearly one in five US adults live with a mental illness.
  • Workplace stress has been reported to cause 120,000 deaths in the US each year.
  • Approximately 65% of U.S. workers surveyed have characterized work as being a very significant or somewhat significant source of stress in each year from 2019-2021.
  • 83% of US workers suffer from work-related stress.
  • 54% of workers report that work stress affects their home life.

It is also noted that workplace stress and poor mental health can negatively affect workers through:

  • Job performance
  • Productivity
  • Work engagement and communication
  • Physical capability and daily functioning

The way stress can present in different individuals is outlined in the document Supporting Mental Health in the Workplace, Examples included the following behaviors:

• Irritation, anger, denial

• Feeling nervous or anxious

• Lacking motivation


• Feeling sad or depressed

• Submitting poor-quality work

• Getting into conflicts at work

• Having trouble sleeping or focusing

• Tired, overwhelmed, or burned out

• Trouble completing tasks or meeting deadlines

While it does seem to be a significant challenge, there are many practical suggestions provided to ease some of the stress individual workers may be experiencing:

  • Check in with workers frequently and ask them how they are doing. Offer to support them in any way that you can.
  • Talk about the specific stressors that relate to healthcare. Short staffing and frustrated patients can make an impact and increase the level of stress in the office.
  • Share statistics of how stress is impacting everyone in the workplace. This will let workers know they are not alone in their feelings.
  • Implement an “open door” policy so that workers know they can discuss their concerns.
  • Identify opportunities to reduce stress at work. These may include reassigning work, allowing more time to complete tasks, offer additional training and/or tools to assist with workflow, and establishing a time that the workday ends.

It is also important for each worker to take time to take care of themselves. While all the suggestions may seem like a commonsense approach, it does take commitment to steal away time to focus on you! Self-care activities include:

  • Exercising and eating healthy.
  • Visiting with friends.
  • Establishing a regular sleep schedule.
  • Talking with a close friend or family member.

We are entering what is known as “the most wonderful time of the year,” but, if honesty prevails, it is not without stress! Take time now to outline how you can determine which activities will bring you joy and those which may bring undue stress and, when possible, move toward the joyful activities.

If you would like more information, the following links lead to important resources:

Supporting Mental Health in the Workplace Getting Started Guide for Front-Line Supervisors

Supporting Mental Health in the Workplace

My Mental Health: Do I Need Help?