Working to Live and Living to Work Health and Safety at Work

Work takes up half our lives, maybe more. Unfortunately, many people don’t have the luxury of enjoying their work. In Malta, just over a quarter of the population experience a high level of job satisfaction, while in Denmark this number is much higher. And with a growing emphasis on innovation and creativity in the workplace, it is even more crucial that workers find pleasure in their work.

All jobs have their own risks and stressors, from the construction worker balancing atop dangerous heights, to the CEO of a multi-million dollar corporation sitting in a cosy office all day. We need to work to live. But work may be very likely to kill us or endanger our health. 

The Most Common On-the-Job Work Injuries

In 2018, 3332 people died from workplace accidents in the EU, most of them men. Even more workers acquired a work-related injury or illness, with 3.1 million non-fatal accidents that resulted in at least four days of absence. Some jobs that don’t look physically demanding, such as those in retail and catering, can still cause physical strain. Physical strain can easily come about by working long hours with ‘free’ time dedicated to errands and chores. And even innocent-looking things like a wet floor and a heavy box can easily cause  nasty accidents. In addition, in light of the current pandemic, the COVID-19 virus poses another physical threat to those whose work cannot be done from home. 

Physical injury is not the only danger of the workplace. It seems our occupations are often a major source of stress. According to a study conducted in 2020, 828,000 workers in Great Britain suffered from work-related stress, depression, or anxiety which resulted in 17.9 million working days lost.

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There are many reasons why work can cause so much mental distress. Work can aggravate already existing individual problems; after all, workers don’t just leave all their troubles behind when they walk out the door. But it is not unusual for the work environment itself and its expectations to be the root of the problem. Managers can sometimes place unrealistic or impossible demands on their workers. Gossip, bullying, and harassment is a very common problem, especially for women. The Hiscox Workplace Harassment Study shows that 35% of a sample of workers feel that they had been harassed, and that women are more likely to feel that they have been harassed, at 41%.

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The COVID-19 pandemic has brought on new challenges for workers. Many jobs have moved partially or fully online to minimise the spread of the virus. For some employers, this is an excuse to make their employees work more, since ‘You’re working from home so you have no excuse’. The increase in teleworking is eroding the boundary between our working life and our social life, causing many workers to feel like they are never truly resting or taking a break, because they can never truly get away from their work. According to recent studies, teleworking is also shown to burden working mothers in particular, as they often have to juggle working, taking care of the house, and supervising their children, who aren’t attending school or daycare because of closures.

To top it all off, workplace stressors may even violate workers’ rights, and the employee may not be aware of it or may be too afraid to make a report for fear of being fired.

All these stressors put immense pressure on workers, reducing their enthusiasm as well as the quality of their work. This means that some inevitably leave their job or remain in a constant state of burnout.

The culture and regulations surrounding work will not change overnight, but we have to start somewhere to ensure that health and safety in the workplace continues to be protected and improved for everyone’s sake.

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This can start with schools and educational institutions teaching career guidance so young people can find a career that matches their desires and talents. Workers can be offered therapy by their company to alleviate stress and help them work through personal issues. With the increasing popularity of teleworking, more attention must be given to the right to disconnect. And most importantly, government institutions should raise awareness about workers’ rights and provide a secure system for workers to report violations of their rights without being afraid of losing their job.

Further Reading

EUROSTAT – Quality of life. Ec.europa.eu. (2021). Retrieved 4 May 2021, from https://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/cache/infographs/qol/index_en.html.

Gender plays a big role in workplace harassment: Hiscox survey. (2018, Sep 05). Carrier Management, https://search-proquest-com.ejournals.um.edu.mt/magazines/gender-plays-big-role-workplace-harassment-hiscox/docview/2099920513/se-2?accountid=27934

Lyttelton, T., Zang, E., & Musick, K. (2020, July 9). Gender Differences in Telecommuting and Implications for Inequality at Home and Work. https://doi.org/10.31235/osf.io/tdf8c

Statistics Explained. Ec.europa.eu. (2021). Retrieved 4 May 2021, from https://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/statistics-explained/index.php?title=Main_Page.

Work-related stress, anxiety or depression statistics in Great Britain, 2020. Hse.gov.uk. (2020). Retrieved 4 May 2021, from https://www.hse.gov.uk/statistics/causdis/stress.pdf.

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