Heart disease is the leading cause of death in America with an average of 610,000 people dying every year. However, in contrast to this, 2.3 million workers die every year due to occupational accidents and work-related illnesses and diseases. It’s no secret that some workplaces can be both physically and mentally stressful, if not outright dangerous. To help protect yourself and mitigate injury and stress, it’s important to know how to stay safe at work, promote healthy spaces, and practice self-care. To get started, let’s explore these elements more thoroughly.

Finding Safer Ways to Work

If you work at a job that is physically demanding, safety should be the biggest concern of everyone. Even lifting a box that weighs 10 kilograms — roughly 22 pounds — can put 180 kilograms worth of pressure on your spine. Heavy lifting like this undoubtedly contributes to the over 50% of working Americans reporting back pain. From construction to healthcare, all careers that require lifting should have a focus on safe practices that help protect workers.

If you have concerns based on the safety measures, or lack thereof, that are within your workplace, consider speaking to your co-workers and managers about working together to adopt safer practices. If you feel your concerns are not being met, remember that you have options.

OSHA Regulations and Rights

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, commonly known as OSHA, is a federal organization responsible for ensuring that employees have healthy and safe working conditions. All employees in the private sector are protected by OSHA; however, in some states, public sector employees are not. If you are unsure where you fall, ask your manager or supervisor about your companies OSHA coverage.

Everyone covered by OSHA has rights that employers cannot violate. Under OSHA regulations employees are entitled to the following.

  • Proper training on how to handle any hazardous chemicals that you may be exposed to.
  • Proper training for any health-related or safety hazards that you face in your workplace.
  • Access to work injury, OSHA, and workers rights information upon request from your employer.
  • Access to any OSHA inspection results
  • The ability to request adjustment if your employer is failing to meet health and safety standards.
  • The ability to file a complaint if you experience any retaliation for exercising your protected rights.

Legally, employers cannot punish or terminate you for speaking out about safety issues, and if any such action occurs you should file a complaint within 30 days. Ensuring that your workplace has safe practices is one of the most important ways you can help mitigate physical stresses and avoid unnecessary injury.

Creating Healthier Spaces

Just as physical safety is important, so too is mental health safety. Creating a workspace that is conducive to lessening stress and benefiting mental health is equally as important as enacting safe lifting and operating protocols. Nearly 80% of adults with depression report difficulty with normal work, home, and social activities according to the CDC. Disorders like this can also go undetected for months, if not years, due to them being harder to pinpoint than physical issues. Unfortunately, mental health issues can be a difficult topic to broach in the workplace, despite the fact that stress and other work-related factors can have a large part to play in these disorders.

A survey conducted in 2018 by Peldon Rose found that nearly 72% of employees want their employers to place a larger emphasis on mental health and personal well-being. In order to help cultivate this culture and create a healthier mental health environment at work, there are a couple of key steps you can begin to champion at your workplace.

  • Communicate Openly: Take steps to improve open communication within your workplace. Work with your co-workers to ensure that no one is afraid to speak their minds or talk about their feelings. In many workplaces, it can be easy to become overwhelmed by work leading to a build-up of stress. Being able to communicate how you’re feeling without fear of embarrassment is a step in the right direction when it comes to a healthy mental environment. An emphasis should also be placed on the seriousness of mental health issues, ensuring that all employees know that they can talk about their troubles without the fear of being brushed off.
  • Providing Nutrition and Hydration: If your workplace provides either food or drink for employees, consider talking about incorporating healthier options like fruits, vegetables, and water. An emphasis on nutrition can benefit the mental health of employees by allowing them to feel better physically. This, in turn, can help them focus better and feel more comfortable while doing their work.
  • Build Relationships: Cultivating relationships of trust between employees is also beneficial to maintaining a healthier more mindful space. A supportive team can make a world of difference when it comes to feeling valued and happier at work. A cold, impersonal office can make employees feel anxious and under-appreciated, but an open and friendly office can have the opposite positive reaction.
  • Asking for Help: Cultivating a supportive workplace also means creating a space where employees feel safe asking for help when needed. Everyone needs help sometimes and creating a workplace that fosters teamwork and inclusivity can help boost mental health and let employees know that they have a network to rely on.

Fostering teamwork and openness within your workplace are two of the most important things you can do to create a healthier mental space. When employees feel they have people they can rely on and talk honestly to, they will feel more confident and valued. This can also lead to a lower amount of stress, as no one will feel they are alone without help.

If you feel that your workplace isn’t fostering these ideals, consider working with your co-workers to help build a new culture that better benefits the mental health of everyone on-site. You might also consider talking with your managers and supervisors if you feel that your company isn’t doing enough to support mental illness and the individuals affected.

Practicing Self-Care

Outside of the workplace, self-care is important for managing both physical and mental stresses. While little things like meditation or little hobbies can be enjoyed after work, on the weekends indulging in massages or long relaxing walks can help relax your body and reset your brain. Too often self-care is put on the backburner and while stress builds up and becomes a larger issue. In order to prevent this, consider adding some of these self-care activities into your weekly routine.

  • Getting Enough Sleep: Sleep can do wonders for you both physically and mentally. If you’re continuously not getting enough restful sleep you can even begin experiencing major health issues. In order to get the best sleep possible, try and create a nightly routine that you can stick to. Likewise, take steps to darken your bedroom and remove distractions such as TVs and laptops. If you only use your bedroom for sleep, your brain will begin to associate it with rest, making it easier for you to unwind at night and fall asleep quickly.
  • Put Good in, Get Good Out: Treating yourself with a delicious and healthy diet is another way to practice self-care. Eating greasy junk foods can leave you feeling uncomfortable and sluggish; however, increasing the amount of healthy food you consume can make you feel more energized overall.
  • Weekend Massage: Depending on the type of massage you get, a session can between 15 to 90 minutes. Massages are good for those who work both in physical positions and in more sedentary positions. This activity can help relieve stress and mitigate pains that can come from physically taxing occupations. It can also alleviate the discomfort and tension that can arise from being seated at a desk for hours at a time. If possible, try and add regular massages into your routines to help your body — and mind — recoup.
  • Invest in a Pet: Pets have been used in many ways to help reduce stress and anxiety in people who suffer from different disorders, for example, PTSD. Pets can also help you with self-care as they are able to give you something to care for that takes your mind off of workplace stresses.
  • Incorporate Exercise: Exercise has many benefits that can help boost mood and improve physical comfort. Exercise can help office workers stay active while also helping those in physical positions more easily perform tasks. Activities like this don’t have to be difficult, even walking or attending a weekly yoga class can have benefits. The most important thing is to find an activity that works for your schedule and that you can enjoy doing.
  • Get Outside: Spending all your downtime at home can also negatively impact your mental and physical health. Getting outside can help reduce stress and lower blood pressure, as well as exposing you to the world’s best source of vitamin D. Getting out and about can also help break up the monotony of going to work and coming home, instead, giving you new locations to explore and take advantage of.

Self-care is something too many people overlook in importance. While taking steps to make your workplace safer and more conducive to mental health is important, taking care of yourself outside of the office is half the battle.

The Smallest Steps

Overcoming physically and mentally stressful work environments isn’t something that happens overnight. Instead, large scale changes come about due to the smallest steps that help get the ball rolling. If you feel that your workplace could benefit from better safety measures and a healthier mental environment, consider working with your co-workers to change the culture and create something better together. At the end of it all, everyone stands to benefit from increased safety and teamwork.