Occupational Health Psychology
OccupationalHealth Psychology (OHP) is concerned with the application of psychology inother toimprove thequality ofworking life to protecting and promoting thesafety , health and well beingofworkers(NIOSH).Protection and promotion are geared towards interventionsto reducehazards at work and to equip individual workers with knowledge and resources toimprove theirhealth(CDC, 2010).
Theterm OHP wasfirst mentionedby FriedrichEngels in1845 and in1987 ashe wroteon “theconditions of workingclass in England”.Karl Marx (1867 & 1999) also usedit inwriting “the horrificways whichcapitalismtookadvantageofworkers in Das Kapital”.
Karaserk (1979) castigatedTaylors approach on how jobmustbe done havealso made contributionstoOHP.
OHPrequires aninterdisciplinaryapproach(Maclean, Plotnikoff & Moyer, 2002). Examples arepublic health, preventative medicine, industrialengineering, etc. The primary focus of OHP is the prevention ofillness andinjurybycreating safe andhealthyworking environment (Quick et al.,1979, Saiter, Hurrel, Fox, Tetrick and Barling , 1999). Themajorchallenge in promoting occupationalhealthischangingnature of work and workforce (Quick & Tetrick, 2002). Peoples exposure to workenvironment may bevery dynamic making it verydifficultfrom anepidemiological perspective to identify the sources ofill health (Berkman & Kowachi, 2000).
Amyriadofbenefits toboth employersandemployees can be realised from OHP. The Health and Safety atworkAct (1974) says,“it shall be theduty of every employer to ensure the health at work ofall employees. Employers have to uphold a duty of care and to ensureas far asisreasonable andpracticable, the health, safety and welfare of all their employees. Theemployermustnot act or conducthimself in a waythat will causeinjury to theemployee”.(HSE, 1995).
TheHealthand Safety Executive (HSE) in the United Kingdom hasbrought to bear ManagementStandards in OHP to helpbring downthelevel ofworkrelated stressbythe introduction ofthecompetency framework (CIPD, 2007). Stress is defined as a particular relationship between the person and environmentthatisappraisedby the person astaxingor exceedinghis or herresources and endangeringhisor her well being (Lazarus and Folkman, 1984). Management Standards is defined as characteristics or culture of an organisation where the risk from work related stress are being effectively managed and controlled (Kerr et al.,2009). In theManagement Standards, six potential variables(demand, control, support, relationships, role and change) ifnotorganisedappropriately could lead to poor health and well being, decreased productivity andincreased sickness and absence (Cousins et al., 2004 & Mackay et al., 2004) . Theyalsohave the potential of impacting on workersdisregarding the type and size of the organisation (Mackay et al., 2004).
OHP, emphasise on the importance ofemployee control and participation. The SwedishWork Environment Act(1978) has made psychosocial and psychological stands. The Swedish Act ofCo-Determination(1977) give workers a mouth piece on job design, methods of production, working environment and organisational decision making (Gardell & Johansson, 1981).
OHP opens thegatewayfor employers todevelop stresspolicies which aregeared towards protecting health, safety and welfare ofemployees. In the UK, the HSE Act of1974 allowsorganisations to take note of all stressors andconduct risk assessment toquash stress and controlrisksfrom stress, consultations withtrade unions’safetyrepresentatives on all proposed actionsrelating to the prevention of workplace stress, managers and supervisorsaretrained on goodmanagement practice, providing confidential counsellingfor staffs if need be and lastly, provisionof resources to implement agreed stress managementstrategies. For example, The Barking, Havering and Redbridge University Hospitals have a stress management policy in place which aim todesign andimplement services, policies and measures that meet the diverse need of their services, people and workforce ensuringthatno one is disadvantaged (BHRUT, 2009). They also aim to improving working lives (IWL), providing staffs with occupationalhealth services andprovidingconfidentialcounselling services (MSWRS, 2007).
Occupational Healthhelps in the setting ofperformancestandards bytheidentification ofhazards, assessment of risk basedon probability andseverity(major, serious and slight), risk control andthe need to monitor andmaintain it ( Cox et al., 2000). In Controlling workplace hazards, potentialhazards are eliminated, employees are restricted to hazards and aretrainedon how todo away with hazards (Smith et al., 1978). Employeesgetadequate information about thename of the hazard, its health effects and the types of exposure (OSHIA, 1970). Safety andhealth is effective in reducing employee risk at work (Cohen & Collagen, 1998).
Employers canuse global objectives (where a percentage of hazard reduction is set) to measure the incidence of workplaceinjury ( Quick & Tetrick, 2002). By this, they could see the viability of a health and safety training programs. Studies show that increasing hourly ratesof employerscan bebeneficial to safety behaviours and reduction in hazardexposure (Hopkins, Conrad & Smith 1986; Smith, Anger, Hopkins & Conrad 1983).
OHP giveemployers the opportunity to know the causes ofstress at work soasto put measures in placetostifle employees fromcapitalising onemployers’negligenceonhealth and safety at work since, as long asemployees havejustified evidence that the employerhas been negligent or breached theirstatutory duty, they will be due forcompensation which affects employersfinanciallybut will enrichemployees. Three examples ofsome compensation cases arethatofpoliceman Martin Long whoearned?330,000 from the Hillsborough disaster in 1989 andthat ofsocial worker ThelmaConwaywho alsoreceived ?140,000 in compensation after she developed stressrelated illness throughwork. Recently, Joyce Walters, a teacher who had a painful nodule on her vocal cord after handling a noisy classroom was paid ?150,000 (Haywood, 2010).
There is more toensuringsafety performance than a written health and safety policy (Smith et al., 1978). Itmust be emphasised thatholding safety programs for organisations are good however, there is the need to encourage communication throughout the various departments inorganisations. Informal communication provides motivation and meaningful information forhazard control ( Quick & Tetrick, 2002).
Curbinginjuries and illness atwork really requires a multifaceted approach that can definehazard, evaluate risk, establish means to control risk and incorporate managementsupervision and employees activelyin theprocess. Topmanagement should have a responsibility to be committed to health and safety programs (Cohen, 1977).The HSE stress indicator tool (HSE, 2007) must alsobe used concurrently to measure stress atwork in order to have a healthy and safer place to work.
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